The city was inhabited by the Romans and later (7th cent. A.D.) by the Franks; an oratory was founded there (c.600) by the bishop of Cambrai on an island in the Senne. The city was fortified (c.1100) and became (late 12th cent.) a commercial center on the trade route from Bruges and Ghent to the Rhineland. It developed into a center of the wool industry in the 13th cent.
In the 15th cent. the arts flourished and many stately mansions (some still standing) were built. Brussels became (1430) the seat of the dukes of Burgundy and later (1477) of the governors of the Spanish (after 1714, Austrian) Netherlands and was renowned for the luxury and gaiety of its life. In 1561 the Willebroek Canal, connecting Brussels with the Scheldt River, was completed. In the late 16th cent. the city was the center of the duque de Alba's reign of terror.
The city suffered heavily in the wars fought in the Low Countries in the 16th to 18th cent. Brussels changed hands several times in the French Revolutionary Wars; later, during the Waterloo campaign (1815), it was Wellington's headquarters. From 1815 to 1830 it was, with The Hague, the alternate meeting place of the Netherlands parliament. In 1830 it became the capital of independent Belgium. Brussels was occupied by the Germans in World Wars I and II. In 1958 it was the site of a World's Fair. Following constitutional reforms in 1989 and 1993, Brussels became a separate region within a federalized Belgium.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.