Palais de Justice, Brussels

Palace of Justice of Brussels
Palais de Justice de Bruxelles  (French)
Justitiepaleis van Brussel  (Dutch)
Palais de Justice from Hilton.jpg
View from The Hotel Brussels (then Hilton) in 2009
General information
Architectural style
AddressPlace Poelaert / Poelaertplein
Town or cityB-1000 City of Brussels, Brussels-Capital Region
Coordinates50°50′12″N 4°21′06″E / 50.83667°N 4.35167°E / 50.83667; 4.35167Coordinates: 50°50′12″N 4°21′06″E / 50.83667°N 4.35167°E / 50.83667; 4.35167
Current tenantsBelgian court
Construction started31 October 1866 (31 October 1866)
Inaugurated15 October 1883
Cost45 million Belgian francs
ClientBelgian government
OwnerBelgian government
Height104 m (341 ft)
Diameter160 m × 150 m (520 ft × 490 ft)
Technical details
Floor area26,000 m2 (280,000 sq ft)
Design and construction
ArchitectJoseph Poelaert

The Palace of Justice of Brussels (French: Palais de Justice de Bruxelles, Dutch: About this soundJustitiepaleis ) or Law Courts of Brussels is the most important court building in Belgium. It is located on Place Poelaert/Poelaertplein in the Marolles/Marollen district of Brussels.

The Palace of Justice was built between 1866 and 1883 by the celebrated architect Joseph Poelaert in the eclectic style. The building is reputed to be the largest constructed in the 19th century[1] and is a notable landmark of Brussels. The total cost of the construction, land and furnishings was somewhere in the region of 45 million Belgian francs.

This site is served by the Louise/Louiza metro station (on lines 2 and 6 of the Brussels metro), and the tram lines 92 and 94. From the lower part of town, it is also possible to take a lift called Ascenseur (Lift) des Marolles to access it.[2]


Inception and construction

The current Palace of Justice is located on the Galgenberg hill, between the upper and lower city, where in the Middle Ages convicted criminals were hanged.[3]

A first courthouse had been erected on the site of a former Jesuit church, on Palace Square (today Justice Square), between Rue de l'Empereur (today Boulevard de l'Empereur/Keizerlaan) and Rue d'Or/Guldenstraat. Built between 1818 and 1823 by the architect François Verly, this neoclassical building had quickly deteriorated. The question of building a new, larger courthouse arose as early as 1837. It was initially planned to rebuild it in the same place. This project, the cost of which was estimated at 3 million Belgian francs, quickly aborted. The idea of building it in the Leopold Quarter was no more successful. In 1846–1847, another reconstruction project was also buried.

Joseph Poelart, the architect of the Palace of Justice

In 1860, during the reign of King Leopold I, a Royal decree announced the construction of the Palace of Justice, and an international architectural contest was organised for its design. The first proposals were found to be unacceptable and were thus rejected. The then-Minister of Justice Victor Tesch appointed Joseph Poelaert to draw plans of the building in 1861. The first stone was laid on 31 October 1866, and the building was inaugurated on 15 October 1883, four years after Poelaert's death in 1879. As for the old courthouse, it was demolished in 1892.

Depiction of the Palace of Justice on a pre-1944 postcard. Note the lower dome.

For the Palace of Justice's construction, a section of the Marolles/Marollen neighbourhood was demolished, while most of the park belonging to the House of Merode was also expropriated. The 75 landlords belonging to the nobility and the high bourgeoisie,[4] many of whom lived in their homes, received large indemnities, while the other more modest inhabitants, about a hundred, were also forced to move by the Belgian government, though they were compensated with houses in the garden city "Tillens-Roosendael" (French: cité-jardin Tillens-Roosendael) in the Quartier du Chat in the Uccle municipality.[5]

Poelaert himself resided in the Marolles, only a few hundred metres from the building, on Rue des Minimes/Minimenstraat, in a house adjoining his vast offices and workshops and communicating with them.[6][7] It is thus unlikely he saw himself as ruining the neighbourhood. Nonetheless, many angry citizens personally blamed Poelaert for the forced relocations, and the expression schieven architect (meaning "shameful architect") became one of the most serious insults in the dialect of the Marolles.[3]

Although the construction took place during the reign of King Leopold II, he showed little interest in the building, and it is not considered part of his extensive architectural programme in Brussels or his legacy as the "Builder-King".[verification needed]

Damage and renovation

At the end of the Second World War, on the eve of the liberation of Brussels, the retreating German forces started a fire in the Palace of Justice in order to destroy it, as well as the legal records it contained. As a result, the cupola collapsed and part of the building was heavily damaged. In 1947, the restoration work was entrusted to the architect-engineer Albert Storrer. By 1948, most of the building was repaired, and the cupola was rebuilt 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) higher than the original, whose somewhat flat shape had been criticised.

Renovations on the building have been in progress since 2003. These renovations pertain to the repair and strengthening of the roof structure and the walls, as well as putting a new layer on the gilded cupola. Progress is slow, and in 2013, it was reported that the decade-old scaffolding was so rusted and unsafe that the scaffolding itself was in need of renovation.[8]


Brussels' Palace of Justice was, at the time of its construction, the largest building in the world, and remains today one of the largest courthouses. The edifice is currently 160 by 150 metres (520 by 490 feet),[1] and has a total built ground surface of 26,000 m2 (280,000 sq ft), bigger than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The 104 m (341 ft)[9] high dome weighs 24,000 tonnes. The building has 8 courtyards with a surface of 6,000 m2 (65,000 sq ft), 27 large court rooms and 245 smaller court rooms and other rooms. Situated on a hill, there is a level difference of 20 meters between the upper and lower town, which results in multiple entrances to the building at different levels.

The building includes huge interior statues of Demosthenes and Lycurgus, by sculptor Pierre Armand Cattier, and figures of Roman jurists Cicero and Ulpian, by Antoine-Félix Bouré. The central portico, 39 metres (128 feet) high, is surmounted by a bust of the ancient Greek Titaness Themis, personification of divine law and order, by Joseph Ducaju. Moreover, the impressive main hall or salle des pas perdus (literally meaning "room of the lost steps") is around 3,600 m2 (39,000 sq ft) including the first floor gallery, and is 90 metres (300 feet) long and 40 metres (130 feet) wide. A compass rose with sixteen rays indicates the centre of the room.

The monumental marble staircase
The main entry hall
At the centre of the building looking upwards towards the dome


Hall of the Court of Cassation

The Palace of Justice is divided into several sections:

  • Court of Cassation (1st president, Griffie-Clerck and Prosecution)
  • Court of Appeal of Brussels (1st president, Griffie-Clerckand Prosecution)
  • Bar Association of Brussels (French and Dutch)[10]
  • Library of the Magistrate
  • Library of the Bar Association of Brussels[11]
  • Library of the Lawyers


There is a well-known story that Adolf Hitler was reportedly fond of the building. Albert Speer stated in his book Inside the Third Reich[12] that he had been dispatched to Brussels in 1940 to study the building.

Although lacking the dome and being much smaller, the Justice Palace in Lima in Peru, which houses the Supreme Court of Peru, is based upon Brussels' Palace of Justice.

See also


  1. ^ a b Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Le Palais de Justice de Bruxelles - UNESCO World Heritage Centre". whc.unesco.org. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  2. ^ "Palais de Justice, Brussels - Opening hours, tickets and location". www.introducingbrussels.com. Retrieved 2019-10-28.
  3. ^ a b "Palais de Justice" (in French). Belgian federal building registry. September 29, 2009. Archived from the original on February 24, 2011. Retrieved August 12, 2009.
  4. ^ AVB, Liste des expropriations, publiée dans Poelaert et son temps, p.271: Plan du géomètre Van Keerbergen indiquant les propriétés nécessaires à l'érection du Palais de Justice de Poelaert, 9 février 1863 (A.V.B., T.P., 26.242).
  5. ^ Louis Quiévreux, Bruxelles, notre capitale: histoire, folklore, archéologie, 1951, p. 257: "Ceux qui lui donnèrent ce sobriquet, ce furent les expulsés de la «partie» des Marolles démolie afin que puisse être érigé le colosse de la place Louise. La rue des Sabots, celle de l’Artifice et d’autres encore étant condamnées, on transplanta leurs habitants dans un quartier riant et campagnard; celui du Chat, à Uccle, à la limite de Forest.
  6. ^ Poelaert et son temps, Bruxelles, (catalogue exposition), 1980, p. 166: "Il habitait une maison rue des Minimes, voisine de ses bureaux et qui communiquait avec ceux-ci"
  7. ^ Le Patrimoine monumental de la Belgique, Bruxelles, 1C, Pentagone, N-Z, Brussels, edition Pierre Mardaga, 1994, p. 466: Boulevard de Waterloo. n° 12-13 "Deux maisons bourgeoises jumelées de quatre niveaux."...."Le n° 13 était l'habitation personnelle de l'architecte Joseph Poelaert, au moins durant la construction du Palais de Justice et jusqu'à son décès en 1879. L'actuelle façade d'allure Second Empire, datant des années 1860, lui est peut-être même attribuable".
  8. ^ "Stellingen Brussels justitiepaleis zelf aan restauratie toe" (in Dutch). De Standaard. 30 November 2013. Retrieved 23 June 2014.
  9. ^ "Palais de justice de Bruxelles (Brussels, 1883) - Structurae". Structurae. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  10. ^ "About us - History - Balie Brussel". Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  11. ^ http://bib.barreaudebruxelles.be/webopac/Vubis.csp
  12. ^ Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich, Memoirs by Albert Speer. Translated by Winston. The Macmillan Company. p. 42.

External links

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