Larger than St Peter’s in Rome, this 2.6-hectare complex of law courts was the world’s biggest building when it was constructed (1866–83). While the labyrinthine complex is undoubtedly forbidding, it is not easy to secure. Indeed, in several high-profile cases criminals have absconded from its precincts. Behind the building a terrace offers wide panoramas over the Brussels rooftops, with the Atomium and Koekelberg Basilica the stars of the skyline show. A glass elevator leads down to the earthy Marolles district.
Designed to evoke the temples of the Egyptian pharaohs, the Palais de Justice was sited on the hill dominating the working-class Marolles as an intimidating symbol of law and order. When its architect, Joseph Poelaert, went insane and died during its construction, legends promptly suggested he’d been struck down by the witchcraft of the numerous Marolles residents evicted to make way for the building. The term skieven (twisted) architekt remains a characteristic insult in the old Bruxellois dialect.