I'm reading a book in which someone goes to Belgium. I thought, I kind of forget about Belgium. Since I realized I don't know much about it, I thought it would be good to learn a fact or two.
- Belgium was part of the Netherlands until 1830.
- The country is about the size of Maryland, with a population of over 10 million. Maryland itself, by the way, has a population of 5.3 million. So by comparison, Belgium is a tad crowded.
- Belgium is bordered by France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and a bit of the North Sea.
(map from SignWriting in Belgium)
- The country is split into two groups, primarily split in terms of language. Speaking in broad generalities, there are the Flemish who live in the more industrialized north and speak Dutch, while in the south, the Walloons speak French. Tensions have increased recently between these two groups, so the country has amended its constitution to recognize them as separate, autonomous entities. The capital, Brussels, is in the center of the country and is more or less a neutral zone.
- Politically, the country is run by a federal parliament, which ultimately answers to a hereditary monarch. So, it's sort of like England. But instead of a House and a Senate, they have two Senates, one in Dutch and one in French.
- The country has been a meeting-place and a cross-roads for Europeans for centuries. The EU and NATO are both headquartered in Brussels.
- There are lots of canals criss-crossing the country, some of which flood sometimes. There are also lots of castles.
This is a castle in Ghent. (photo by Christopher Barton)
- Belgians make a lot of machinery and metal equipment, but another one of their major sources of income is from the diamond trade.
- Chocolate is also a major export for Belgium, which produces over 172,000 tons of chocolate each year.
- One city in Belgium is called Spa, and is the origin of the more general word "spa."
- The inventor of the saxophone, the cartoonist who drew the first Smurfs, surrealist painter Rene Magritte, and Audrey Hepburn, born Edda van Heemstra Hepburn, were all from Belgium.
It kind of reminds me of the towns in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 movie.
CIA World Factbook entry on Belgium
Belgian Tourist office in the USA
Principia Cybernetica's overview of Belgium