In this installment, we’re going to dive into the small European country of Belgium. Probably best known for its chocolate and waffles, but did you know that the country is also home to a man who ran 365 marathons in just 1 year? Here is our choice of the top 10 most Intriguing facts about Belgium!
A Marathon Every Day
For most of us, one marathon a year, or in a lifetime, is more than enough. A Belgian runner by the name of Stefaan Engels gives the term ‘marathon man’ a whole new meaning. The forty nine year old runner set a new world record after completing an astonishing total of 365 marathons, one for each day of the year. Engels ran across several different countries in Europe and North America. As a child he was diagnosed with asthma and doctors advised him not to do sports. He said that he took this incredible challenge as an example to others. There were many times when he didn’t think he could go on any longer. Engels is quoted for saying that he just “focused on the marathon that day and didn’t think about the ones soon to follow.” This is a feat that will never be broken, that is, unless one decides to tackle the record on a leap year.
An Indoor Ocean
Nemo 33 is an indoor swimming facility in Uccle, Belgium. It held the record for being the deepest swimming pool in the world since its opening on May 1st, 2004, but lost the title when the Y-40 was completed in the summer of 2014 in Padua, Italy. Nemo 33’s maximum depth is 113 feet or 34.5 meters. This massive swimming pool contains approximately 660,000 US gallons or 2,500,000 liters of heavily filtered non chlorinated spring water which is kept at a constant temperature of 86F or 30C. The complex was designed by Belgian diving expert John Beernaert’s as a “multi-purpose diving instruction, recreational, and film production facility.” All divers are welcome, amateur or professional, as long as the individual is over twelve years of age. This is a prime location to visit for all those interested in one day exploring the world’s oceans and offer different instructional classes.
The contraceptive pill has been voted the best of all Belgian inventions by listeners of the Flemish station, Radio 1. To be fair, this pill wasn’t only invented by a Belgian Medical Doctor, Ferdinand Peeters. He took the partially developed concept from the United States and developed upon it. Perhaps one of the biggest inventions from Belgium is the Saxophone, inspired by Antoine-Joseph Sax, who also invented the saxotromba, the saxhorn and saxtuba.
Belgium has more castles per square mile or kilometer than any other country in the world. France and Germany may be better known for other fortified buildings of this type, but it’s nearly impossible just to step out the door in Belgium without seeing some sort of citadel. There are approximately three thousand castles in Belgium, a country a little less than 12,000 square miles or 31,000 square kilometers. Over four hundred of these castles are open to the public, many of which hold receptions and act as hotels or restaurants. Some areas in Belgium are so densely populated by these structures, that certain village’s average two castles, which is an extraordinarily high number compared to the rest of Europe.
Like most other countries cuisine, Belgium’s is heavily influenced by that of the countries around it. In this case, those countries are Germany, France and the Netherlands. As one source points out, it is often said that Belgian food is served in the quantity of Germany, and the quality of France. Around the world, Belgium is known for its chocolate, waffles, and beer. A very popular, more hearty of dishes, is carbonade flamande, which is a traditional Belgian sweet and sour stew made with beef, onions, and beer. An ‘old brown beer’ is recommended, this gives it the more bitter flavor. French fries, called pomme frites, are hands down the best accompaniment to this meal and taste best soaked in the broth. There are six Trappist breweries in Belgium, all of which are monasteries. The first one opened in 1595, and since then, nine more have followed, one being in Austria, two in the Netherlands, and another in the United States.
The Manneken Pis
The Manneken Pis or “Little Man Pee,” is a small bronze statue located in Brussels, Belgium. It depicts a naked boy urinating into the basin of a fountain. Several legends surround the bizarre bust, but one states that the troops of two year old Duke Godfrey Leuven were in battle against an old knight generation called Berthouts, whose family name has since died out. As the story goes, Godfrey the third’s men hung the infant from a basket in a nearby tree to encourage them and help lead them to victory. Legend has it that the toddler urinated on the enemy combatants who eventually lost the battle. It is customary for the statue to be dressed in costume several times a week. His wardrobe consists of many different styles, there are even pictures of the Manneken Pis dressed in Judo attire, along with the mayor’s outfit. The most current version of the statue was built in 1965 due to vandalism and “kidnapping.”
Belgium Billiard Balls
Belgium is known around the world by pool players and enthusiasts for their Aramith Billiard balls, which have been manufactured in the country for several decades. As many sources points out, they have a reputation for outstanding endurance and uncompromised quality. Around 80% of players across the globe use them, and they are recognized as the reference of the industry. The original company that makes these balls, Saluc, was founded in 1923 as a chemical industry that specialized in tannery products, but some twenty seven years later billiard balls became their replacement. Aramith has since branched out and makes all sorts of industrial balls including those used for bowling.
Audrey Hepburn was born on May 4th, 1929 in Brussels, Belgium. She was a British actress and humanitarian who was active during ‘Hollywood’s Golden Age.’ The American Film Institute ranked Hepburn as the third greatest female screen legend in the history of the American cinema. She has also been placed in the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame and is a film and fashion icon. Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar and was nominated for multiple others. Some of her best known films include “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Charade”. Another famous Belgian is Monsignor Georges Lemaitre, born in Charleroi, Belgium on July 17th, 1894, he was a Jesuit priest, astronomer, and professor of physics. He is the first known teacher to propose the theory of the expansion of the universe. Monsignor Lemaitre also proposed the theory known today as the ‘Big Bang,’ which he called his “hypothesis of the primeval atom.” Other famous Belgians include Jean-Claude Van Damme, Gotye and Johnny Galecki.
Diamond Capital of the World
Antwerp’s diamond district is an area within the city of Antwerp, Belgium, also known as the Diamond Quarter; it consists of several square blocks which cover an area of about one square mile or 2.6 square kilometers. As of 2012, most of the gem cutting and polishing work historically done within the district had moved on to low wage centers in other regions, an astounding 84% of the world’s rough diamonds passed through Antwerp’s at one point. This allows for it to be given the title of largest diamond center in the world, and has a turnover of over $50 billion in revenue. While on the subject of statistics, it should also be known that around 380 Antwerp diamond workshops cater to 1,500 different companies in the business. This is such a minute number in comparison to the 3,500+ brokers and merchants in the Diamond Quarter.
Belgian Chocolate Production
Although ingredients such as cocoa beans and sugar are grown abroad, for the sweet to be considered Belgian, the actual production of the chocolate must take place in that country. Belgian chocolate is world renowned as being some of the best in the world, and has been made as early as the 17th century. One source even adds that it is an important part of Belgium’s culture and economy. Their association with chocolate may have started in 1635 when the country was under Spanish occupation. By the mid-18th century, it had become extremely popular among the upper and middle class, especially in the form of hot chocolate. The early 20th century was vital to the beginnings of Belgium’s reign as being one of the largest chocolate exporters in the world. At that time, large quantities of cocoa were imported from Africa. Belgians are also know for their version of praline, which is a hard shelled chocolate exterior with liquid filling.