The Palais de la Nation was constructed between 1779 and 1783, also during the Austrian period. It was intended for the states-general and government offices. During the French occupation the law courts sat there, and from 1817 to 1830 it was assigned for the sittings of the states-general. It is now divided between the senate and the chamber of representatives. In 1833 the part assigned to the latter was burnt out, and has since been reconstructed. The buildings flanking the chambers and nearer the park are government offices with residences for the ministers attached.
The improvements effected in Brussels during the 19th century were enormous, and completely transformed the city. The removal of the old wall was followed by the creation of the quartier Léopold, and at a later period of the quartier Louis in the Upper Town. In the lower, under the energetic direction of two burgomasters, De Brouckere and Anspach, not less sweeping changes were effected. The Senne was bricked in, and the fine boulevards du Nord, Anspach, Hainaut and Midi took the place of slums. The Bourse and the post-office are two fine modern buildings in this quarter of the city. The Column of the Congress - i.e. of the Belgian representatives who founded the kingdom of Belgium - surmounted by a statue of King Leopold I., was erected in 1859, and in 1866 the foundation-stone was laid of the Palais de Justice, which was not finished till 1883, at a cost of sixty million francs. This edifice, the design of the architect Poelaert, is in the style of Karnak and Nineveh, but surmounted with a dome, and impresses by its grandiose proportions (see Architecture, Plate XI. fig. 121). It is well placed on the brow of the hill at the southern extremity of the rue de la Régence (the prolongation of the rue Royale), and can be seen from great distances.
In the rue de la Régence are the new picture gallery, a fine building with an exceedingly good collection of pictures, the palace of the count of Flanders, and the garden of the Petit Sablon, which contains statues of Egmont and Horn, and a large number of statuettes representing the various gilds and handicrafts. Immediately above this garden is the Palais d'Arenberg. Perhaps the memorial that attracts the greatest amount of public interest in Brussels is that to the Belgians who were killed during the fighting with the Dutch in September 1830. This has been erected in a little square called the Place des Martyrs, not far from the Monnaie theatre. Outside Brussels at Evere is the chief cemetery, with fine monuments to the British officers killed at Waterloo (removed from the church in that village), to the French soldiers who died on Belgian soil in 1870-71, and another to the Prussians.
Many as were the changes in Brussels during the 19th century, those in progress at its close and at the beginning of the 20th have effected a marked alteration in the town. These have been rendered possible only by the excellent system of electric tramways which have brought districts formerly classed as pure country within reach of the citizens. The construction of the fine Avenue de Louise (1&FRAC12; m. long) from the Boulevard de Waterloo to the Bois de la Cambre was the first of these efforts to bring the remote suburbs within easy reach, at the same time furnishing an approach to the "bois" of Brussels that might in some degree be compared with the Champs élysées in Paris. Another avenue of later construction (6&FRAC12; m. in length) connects the park of the Cinquantenaire with Tervueren. This route is extremely picturesque, traverses part of the forest of Soignies, and is lined by many fashionable villas and country houses. Other improvements projected in 1908 on the slope of the hill immediately below the Place Royale included the removal of the old tortuous and steep street called the "Montagne de la Cour" to give place to a Mont des Arts. A little lower down and not far from the university (which occupies the house of the famous cardinal Granvelle of the 16th century) a central railway terminus was designed on a vast scale.
These improvements connote the obliteration of the insanitary and overcrowded courts and alleys which were to be found between all the main streets, few in number, connecting the upper and the lower towns. The ridge on the west and north-west of the Senne valley never formed part of the town, and it was from it that Villeroi bombarded the city. The suburbs on this ridge, from south to north, are Anderlecht, Molenbeek and Koekelberg, and Laeken with its royal château and park forms the northern part of the Brussels conglomeration. Brussels has been growing at such a rapid rate that the inclusion of this ridge, and more particularly at Koekelberg, within the town limits, was contemplated in 1908.
The completion of the harbour works, making Brussels a seaport by giving sea-going vessels access thereto, was taken in hand in 1897. The completed work provides for a waterway for steamers drawing 24 ft. by the Willibroek Canal into the Ruppel and the Scheldt. There are steamers plying direct from Brussels to London, and 372 vessels of a total tonnage of 76,000 entered and left the port in 1905. The Willibroek Canal was made in the 16th century, and William I. of the Netherlands is entitled to the credit of having first thought of converting it into a ship canal from Brussels to the Scheldt. Nothing was done, however, in his time to carry out the scheme. The distance from Brussels to the Ruppel is only 20 m., and thus Brussels is only about 33 m. farther from the sea than Antwerp.
In addition to the advantages it enjoys from being the seat of the court and the government, Brussels is the centre of many prosperous industries. The manufactures of lace, carpets and curtains, furniture and carriages may be particularly mentioned, but it is chiefly as a place of residence for the well-to-do that the city has increased in size and population. Schools of all kinds are abundant. At the école Militaire youths are trained nominally for the army, but many go there who intend to enter one of the professions or the public service. This school used to occupy part of the old abbey of the Cambre, situated in a hollow near the bois and the avenue Louise, but owing to its insanitary position it has been removed to a new building near the Cinquantenaire. There is a university, to which admission is easy and where the fees are moderate, and the Conservatoire provides as good musical teaching as can be found in Europe. Music can be enjoyed every day in the year either out of doors or under cover. During the winter and spring the opera continues without a break at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, which may be called the national theatre. Concerts are held frequently, as the Belgians are a musical people. Of late years sport has taken a prominent part in Belgian life.
There are athletic institutions, and football is quite a popular game. Horse-racing has also come into vogue, and Boitsfort, in the bois, and Groenendael, farther off in the Forêt de Soignies, are fashionable places of reunion for society.
The town of Brussels has a separate administration, which is directed by a burgomaster and sheriffs at the head of a town council, whose headquarters are in the hôtel de ville. In the Brussels agglomeration are nine suburbs or communes, each self-governing with burgomaster and sheriffs located in a Maison Communale. These suburbs (beginning on the north and following the circumference eastward) are Schaerbeek, St Josse-ten-Noode, Etterbeek, Ixelles, St Gilles, Cureghem, Anderlecht, Molenbeek and Koekelberg. Laeken, which is really a tenth suburb, is classified as a town. In 1856 the population of Brussels alone was 152,828, and by 1880 it had only increased to 162,498. In 1890 the figures were 176,138; in 1900, 183,686; and in December 1904, 194,196. The great increase has been in the suburbs, amounting to nearly 80% in twenty-five years. In 1880 the population of the ten suburbs including Laeken was 248,079. In 1904 the total was 436,453, thus giving for the whole of Brussels a grand total of 630,649.