Population: 10.5 million (July 2009 estimate)
Area: Approximately 11,780 square miles (30,528 sq km)
Borders: France, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands
Coastline: About 40 miles (60 km) on the North Sea
Belgium is an important country to both Europe and the rest of the world as its capital, Brussels, is the headquarters the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. In addition, that city is the home of many worldwide banking and insurance firms, leading some to call Brussels the unofficial capital of Europe.
History of Belgium
Like many of the world's countries, Belgium has a long history. Its name is derived from the Belgae, a Celtic tribe that lived in the area in the first century B.C.E. Also, during the first century, the Romans invaded the area and Belgium was controlled as a Roman province for nearly 300 years. Around 300 C.E., Rome's power began to diminish when Germanic tribes were pushed into the area and eventually the Franks, a German group, took control of the country.
After the arrival of the Germans, the northern part of Belgium became a German-speaking area, while the people in the south remained Roman and spoke Latin. Soon after, Belgium became controlled by the Dukes of Burgundy and was eventually taken over by the Hapsburgs. Belgium was then later occupied by Spain from 1519 to 1713 and Austria from 1713 to 1794.
In 1795, however, Belgium was annexed by Napoleonic France after the French Revolution. Shortly thereafter, Napoleon's army was beaten during the Battle of Waterloo near Brussels and Belgium became a part of the Netherlands in 1815.
It was then not until 1830 that Belgium won its independence from the Dutch. In that year, there was an uprising by the Belgian people and in 1831, a constitutional monarchy was established and a monarch from the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha in Germany was invited to run the country.
Throughout the decades following its independence, Belgium was invaded several times by Germany. In 1944 though, British, Canadian and America armies formally liberated Belgium.
Languages of Belgium
Because Belgium was controlled by different foreign powers for centuries, the country is very diverse linguistically. Its official languages are French, Dutch and German but its population is divided into two distinct groups. The Flemings, the larger of the two, live in the north and speak Flemish- a language closely related to Dutch. The second group lives in the south and consists of the Walloons who speak French. In addition, there is a German community near the city of Liège and Brussels is officially bilingual.
These different languages are important to Belgium because concerns over losing linguistic power has caused the government to divide the country into different regions, each of which has control over its cultural, linguistic and educational matters.
Today, Belgium's government is run as a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch. It has two branches of government. The first is the executive branch which consists of the King, who serves as the head of state; the Prime Minister, who is the head of government; and the Council of Ministers which represents the decision-making cabinet. The second branch is the legislative branch which is a bicameral parliament made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The major political parties in Belgium are the Christian Democratic, the Liberal Party, the Socialist Party, the Green Party and Vlaams Belang. Voting age in the country is 18.
Because of its focus on regions and local communities, Belgium has several political subdivisions, each of which have a varied amount of political power. These include ten different provinces, three regions, three communities and 589 municipalities.
Industry and Land Use of Belgium
Like many other European countries, Belgium's economy consists mainly of the service sector but industry and agriculture are also significant. The northern area is considered the most fertile and much of the land there is used for livestock, although some of the land is used for agriculture. The main crops in Belgium are sugar beets, potatoes, wheat and barley.
In addition, Belgium is a heavily industrialized country and coal mining was once important in southern areas. Today, though, almost all of the industrial centers are in the north. Antwerp, one of the largest cities in the country, is the center of petroleum refining, plastics, petrochemicals and the manufacturing of heavy machinery. It is also famous for being one of the world's largest diamond trading centers.
Geography and Climate of Belgium
The lowest point in Belgium is sea level at the North Sea and its highest point is Signal de Botrange at 2,277 feet (694 m). The rest of the country features a relatively flat topography consisting of coastal plains in the northwest and gently rolling hills throughout the country's central portion. The southeast, however, does have a mountainous region in its Ardennes Forest area.
The climate of Belgium is considered maritime temperate with mild winters and cool summers. The average summer temperature is 77˚F (25˚C) while winters average around 45˚F (7˚C). Belgium can also be rainy, cloudy and humid.
A Few More Facts About Belgium
- Belgium has a literacy rate of 99%
- The life expectancy is 78.6
- 85% of Belgians live in towns and cities
- Nearly 80% of the population of Belgium is Roman Catholic but there are several other religions in the country, all of which receive government subsidies.
Central Intelligence Agency. (2010, April 21). CIA - The World Factbook -- Belgium. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/be.html
Infoplease.com. (n.d.) Belgium: History, Geography, Government, and Culture. Retrieved from: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107329.html
United States Department of State. (2009, October). Belgium (10/09). Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2874.htm