It was not until the 19th century that Belgium became a totally independent country. Prior to that, the land of the Belgae had a succession of different owners from the days of the Roman Empire right up until it broke away from The Netherlands in 1830.

Even now, the country is somewhat divided. It’s officially split between Dutch speaking Flanders in the north, and French speaking Wallonia in the south. Brussels, although lying in Flanders, has a mixture of the two and is regarded as a separate enclave. To complicate matters even further, there’s a small part of Eastern Wallonia where about 1% of the population is German speaking, and none of this of course takes into account the ever-increasing number of immigrants into Belgium.

The combined population of over 11 million is crammed into an area of less than 12,000 sq. miles, which, geographically speaking, has three distinct areas – the flat coastal region, the rolling countryside of the central plateau, and the hillier and wooded Ardennes in the south-eastern part of the country.

Belgium’s geological landscape provided enough raw materials for it to become the first nation on the European continent to join the industrial revolution. The mining and steelmaking industries promoted Belgium into one of the most industrialized countries in the world and in 1951 became one of the founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

In 1957 the ECSC was superseded by the European Economic Community (EEC) with the signing of the Treaty of Rome, and then the European Union (EU) when the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993, with Brussels becoming its unofficial capital.