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Brussels' Saint-Hubert galleries celebrate 175 years of grandeur

Galerie du Roi in the Galeries royales Saint-Hubert - Brussels - Belgium (Wikimedia Creative Commons)
05:50 22/06/2022

The Saint-Hubert galleries, located in the heart of Brussels, a stone's throw from the Grand Place, celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, RTBF reports. Built on the orders of King Leopold I and inaugurated by the sovereign on 20 June 1847, the protected heritage site is now one of the city's main attractions.

Saint-Hubert is often compared to the famous Victor Emmanuel II shopping galleries in Milan. In fact, it was the Saint-Hubert royal galleries that partly served as a model for their Italian counterparts, built only 20 years later.

One of the lesser-known facts about the galleries is that the passageway is in fact privately owned. "The street is private, but it is the subject of a public order from the City of Brussels,” says Alexandre Grosjean, whose family built the galleries and who still owns it today. "That is why we must leave the passage and the entrances open at all times, as well as for those who live here. They must be able to return whenever they want."

"It's not so much a shopping mall as we know it nowadays,” he continues. “It is rather a covered street with shops, but also offices, 150 housing units upstairs and a strong cultural life with a cinema and theatres. It is probably this mix, like a city within a city, that explains why the galleries still exist today."

Since their inaugurations by King Leopold I, these galleries have seen many famous people pass through them. From the artist Magritte who decorated the ceiling during the renovation of the Théâtre des Galeries, to the pioneers of early cinema. "On 1 March 1896, for the first time in Belgium, it was here that people were able to see the cinematograph of the Lumière brothers,” says Paul Grosjean, the brother of Alexandre who is writing a book on the history of the galleries. “A screening session was organised at number 7 of the King's Gallery.”

“Another historical anecdote that comes to mind is that it was in this gallery that the poet Paul Verlaine bought the pistol with which he shot Arthur Rimbaud, which earned him two years of imprisonment in Mons prison."

Nearly 150 years after that event, the galleries continue to attract large numbers. "Between six and seven million people per year walk the three covered galleries, that of the king, the queen and the princes," adds Alexandre Grosjean. "To the point that the blue stones that cover the ground are worn down. The oldest are now only three centimetres thick, whereas originally they were 15."

To celebrate the 175th anniversary, an exhibition on the history of the galleries is planned for the end of the year. Another project envisaged by the owners is the twinning with the Victor Emmanuel II galleries in Milan, as part of the "European association of historical passages" that the Royal Galleries Saint-Hubert have created with other famous galleries on the old continent.

Written by Nick Amies