The more you travel the more you realise that tourism (tour operators, visitor centres, govt depts etc)the world over follows exactly the same model; every city has some kind of hop on hop off bus tour with a running commentary and in Europe the open top double-decker is king. In these often bland and banal recordings every city claims to have the biggest, longest, largest, oldest or substitute your own adjective thing, cursorily claimed in up to 15 languages. But after a while you smell a rat – how can every place have the biggest building, largest hotel, or oldest church?
In Brussels there is a wonderfully ecletic building standing proud on the edge of the escarpment that over looks the city. It is the Palais de Justice and as an historian I am pretty good at placing buildings in time through reading the decorative styles and symbols used in conjunction with what I know of a place’s history – but this one took some reckoning. The scale and proportions are enormous; it rivals the great temples of the ancient world. To give you an idea it has: winged lions from Assyria, Greek and Roman columns, entwined organic scrolling reminiscent of the Arts & Crafts movement, the list goes on. It was obviously built as a statement to prove to the world that Belgium had come of age and I was right. We found out on a hop on hop off tour that it was started in 1868 and finished in 1883 when the new modern state of Belgium was only 30 odd years old.
Now this in its self is an interesting building with an important position in Belgium’s hsitory as a nation but apparently that isn’t enough for the tour commentary as they claim it to be the second biggest building on Earth! Now it is big but its not that big, I checked the repositiory of all knowledge – don’t laugh – Wikipedia – (they are the best for this kind of stuff) and the Palais de Justice doesn’t rate a mention under any category. So why do people make these claims? Its not that hard to check- maybe no one but middle aged Historians ever do!