At the northern end of the Parc Royal in Brussels on Rue de la Roi stands an elegant, neoclassical building set behind a high wrought iron fence.
We knew it was a building of importance because there was a security guard on duty at the gate, but nowhere could we find a sign to explain the significance of the building. The guard, sensing our curiosity, and perhaps feeling a little curious himself, came over to talk to us.
He explained that the building was the Federal Parliament, home to the government of Belgium. His pride in this beautiful building, known as the Palace of the Nation, was evident as he spoke of its history and its magnificent interior. “You must do a tour of the Parliament,” he told us. “It’s full of gold inside.”
This was an unexpected opportunity too good to pass up so we walked for quite a distance around to the visitors’ entrance on the other side of the building. What the guard had neglected to tell us was that we needed our passports as proof of identity in order to enter the Parliament. Luckily we were carrying our drivers’ licences with photo ID and the guards on the security desk at the door were satisfied with those. So with photocopies made and paperwork signed, we were finally able to join a tour.
When Belgium’s provisional government was formed in 1830 the National Congress took up residence in the Parliament building. The government investigated different parliamentary structures and finally chose to follow the Westminster system. The two houses of Parliament are decorated accordingly, with the Chamber of Representatives in green and the Senate in red.
The staircases on either side of the peristyle are also colour coded. The green one leads to the Chamber of Representatives and the red staircase to the Senate.
Along the corridors are meeting rooms and small offices, complete with beautiful paintings showing historical sittings of the Parliament and chandeliers covered with gold leaf.
That friendly guard on the gate was right. The Palace of the Nations truly is a beauty, and if he hadn’t told us we would have missed it. Weren’t we lucky!