Palais de Justice

©Analia Glogowski/Lonely Planet

Palais de Justice


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 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.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Brussels attractions

1. Elevator

0.04 MILES

A glass elevator leads from the Palais du Justice down to the earthy Marolles district.

2. Viewpoint

0.07 MILES

Look out over the Marolles towards the old town.

3. Peeping Policeman

0.11 MILES

This Hergé character uses the terrace end brilliantly for a little spying.

4. Bruegel House

0.12 MILES

There is a museum in this step-gabled house where Pieter Bruegel the Elder lived and died, but it’s only open by reservation; phone ahead or check with…

5. Jardin d’Enfants

0.21 MILES

Victor Horta's first civic commission, the charming Jardin d’Enfants in the Marolles still functions as a schoolhouse.

6. Jewish Museum

0.25 MILES

The Jewish Museum hosts good temporary photography exhibits and a permanent collection relating to Jewish life in Belgium and beyond, with a section on…

7. Place du Petit Sablon

0.25 MILES

About 200m uphill from Place du Grand Sablon, this charming little garden is ringed by 48 bronze statuettes representing the medieval guilds. Standing…

8. Josephine Baker Mural

0.26 MILES

In one of the most distinctive Marolles murals, slinky chanteuse Josephine, with a leopard on a lead, shakes hands with a rotund monk. Behind, both in the…