750,000! That’s how many flowers it takes to cover Brussels’s central square, the Grand Place. Every other year a carpet of colorful begonias is laid out in the historic city centre, the vibrant and extraordinary spectacle that turns the plaza into a fairy tale vision. It’s not hard to embellish the Grand Place, which is often voted as the most beautiful square in Europe. Ornate Baroque guild houses and Gothic town hall buildings line its periphery, and side streets bearing names like ‘butter’, ‘cheese’, ‘herring’, etc. reflect its origins as the main marketplace of old Brussels. Today the shops are still around, although most of them hawk chocolates and tacky souvenirs. But the Grand Place retains its majestic aura, and it’s easy to understand why this place is still one of the busiest tourist sites in the city.
I first visited the Grand Place on a cold winter day when the square was all but empty. Like much of Brussels, its beauty left a strange impression on me of something grandiose, but aloof. It took the flower carpet for me to see Brussels in a different light–more colorful and more joyful. What a delightful thing it is to block the main square for several days just to decorate it with thousands of petals! All this for a few evanescent moments of beauty.