The Supreme Court of Law for the country of Belgium, the Palais de Justice de Bruxelles towers over the city from a high plateau above Place Poelaert. Its Greco-Roman civic architecture from the 19th century, commissioned by Leopold II, makes the courthouse an outstanding example of Belgian grandeur and ingenuity. Though the Palace of Justice is a working government institution, the main lobby is open to the public and well worth a visit to admire the architectural details, historic statues, gilt-bronze detailing and glittering 116-metre-tall copper dome.
With 26,000 square metres of floor space, the vast courthouse is one of the largest in Europe, even dwarfing the acclaimed St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Thematically, the building honours ancient legal decorum, with statues of the world’s famous lawmakers and orators, including Cicero, Demosthenes and Ulpian. Visitors can roam the eight courtyards and the Salle des Pas Perdus beneath the dome, better known as the Hall of Lost Footsteps, and admire sweeping views of Brussels.
The Palace of Justice lies in the uptown section of Saint-Gilles, near the Marolles district and the popular Avenue Louise. It is accessible on foot from Marolles, or via metro to the Louise Station. It’s also possible to reach the courthouse by tram from the Royal Palace or Brussels Park.
Designed by architect Joseph Poelaert, the structure took 20 years to build and is about three times the size of Belgium’s Royal Palace. When Nazi occupiers departed Belgium in 1944, they torched and bombed the Palace of Justice, causing the prized dome to collapse. Renovations were immediate, symbolising Belgium’s determination to regain its international prominence and restore justice for the European continent.