If it is your first time visiting Brussels, and we happen to meet, chances are high that I’ll find an excuse to walk past a few of the tourist traps in the center, straight to the Clock of the Mont des Arts. Located in the heart of Brussels, the magnificent Clock of Mont des Arts graces the Mont des Arts (“Kunstberg” or “Hill of the Arts)”. This iconic timepiece is a symbol of precision and artistry, beautifully adorning a tower amidst lush gardens and cultural institutions. As of late, the area also has seen the rise of some very nice bars, but let’s not digress…
Before we immerse ourselves in the history of the Clock of Mont des Arts, it is crucial to appreciate the Mont des Arts itself. This elevated plateau is not just a physical location; it is a hub of culture, creativity, and history. The gardens, the museums, and the stunning views of the city come together to form a cultural oasis that has enraptured locals and tourists alike for generations.
The Clock of Mont des Arts is more than just a timekeeping device; it is a masterpiece of art and precision. The clock’s face is adorned with ornate motifs and Roman numerals, an ode to classical beauty. Beneath its ornate exterior lies a depth of symbolism that adds layers of meaning to the Clock of Mont des Arts. It is a symbol of the intersection of art and time, reminding us that the passage of time itself is a form of art. It represents the city’s dedication to preserving its cultural heritage, not just in museums and institutions but also in the very fabric of its urban landscape.
But, before we continue, I must clarify that this clock is in fact not a clock. It is a Carillon. It features a set of musical bells and the carillon was a 1964 addition designed by Jules Ghobert. What makes the Carillon of Mont des Arts truly unique is its cast of characters – twelve figures that pay homage to Brussels’ history and folklore. These figures adorn small alcoves around the carillon, creating a rotating spectacle that enchants those who visit. As with many (all?) monuments in Belgium, there is bunch of history and symbolism tied up into this masterpiece. As such, every single statue also tells its own little story..
The Tamtam Player represents Brussels’ musical legacy and its deep-rooted appreciation for rhythm and melody. The Soldier stands tall in honor of the city’s military history, symbolizing the bravery and valor of its defenders. The Worker is a nod to Brussels’ industrial heritage, acknowledging the hands that contributed to the city’s growth and development. The Gaul gives a nod to the region’s Celtic origins, an acknowledgment of its ancient history. Godfrey of Bouillon, a historical figure associated with the First Crusade, symbolizes Brussels’ noble history. Jean-Joseph Charlier with the Wooden Leg was a famous cannoneer during the Belgian Revolution, reflecting the city’s role in shaping the nation’s history. Jacob van Artevelde represents a 14th-century popular leader, embodying the spirit of the people through the ages. The Count of Egmont is a tribute to Belgian nobility and the city’s political significance. Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish Baroque painter, celebrates Brussels’ artistic and cultural contributions. Emperor Charles V acknowledges Brussels’ imperial history, as it served as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. The Warrior with a Curved Sword carries a storied history of being stolen and replaced, symbolizing the city’s resilience. Philip the Good is a nod to the celebrated Duke of Burgundy, under whose reign the city thrived.
As mentioned, the Carillon of Kunstberg is not just a display of statues; it’s a functional musical instrument. Comprising 24 bells, the carillon offers a harmonious melody that alternates between different compositions, each representing different regions of Belgium. This musical diversity embodies the cultural unity and diversity of Brussels and Belgium as a whole.
So when visiting Brussels, perhaps skip the line for the many overpriced & underwhelming waffle stands surrounding the Grand Place area, and instead walk 200 meters further and check out the clock instead. Also, pro tip from an insider, the further you walk away from the Grand Place, the better the waffles tend to get 😉