Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a sovereign state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts several of the EU’s official seats and as well as the headquarters of many major international organizations such as NATO.
Belgium occupies part of the Roman province of Belgica, named after the Belgae, a people of ancient Gaul. The area was conquered by Julius Caesar in 57–50 B.C. , then was overrun by the Franks in the 5th century A.D . It was part of Charlemagne’s empire in the 8th century, then in the next century was absorbed into Lotharingia and later into the duchy of Lower Lorraine.
In the 12th century, Belgium was partitioned into the duchies of Brabant and Luxembourg, the bishopric of Liège, and the domain of the count of Hainaut, which included Flanders. In the 15th century, most of the Low Countries (currently the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg) passed to the duchy of Burgundy and were subsequently inherited by Emperor Charles V. When the latter abdicated in 1555, the territories went to his son Philippe II, king of Spain. While the northern part, now the Netherlands, gained its independence in the following decades, the southern part remained under Spanish control until 1713, when it was transferred to Austria. During the wars that followed the French Revolution, Belgium was occupied and later annexed to France. But with the downfall of Napoléon, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 reunited the Low Countries under the rule of the king of Holland. In 1830, Belgium rebelled against Dutch rule and declared independence, which was approved by Europe at the London Conference of 1830–1831.
Since 1958, when the European Economic Community was born, Brussels, the country’s capital, has gradually established itself as the de facto capital of what has now become the European Union (EU), a role that became official in Dec. 2000 when the European Council of heads of government decided to hold all its regular meetings in Brussels. As a result, the city has become home not only to nearly 20,000 European civil servants, but to an even more numerous community of lobbyists, lawyers, and other professionals drawn to the EU’s main decision center.
Located in western Europe, Belgium has about 40 mi of seacoast on the North Sea, at the Strait of Dover, and is approximately the size of Maryland. The Meuse and the Schelde, Belgium’s principal rivers, are important commercial arteries.
Belgium has a temperate maritime climate influenced by the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean, with cool summers and moderate winters. Since the country is small there is little variation in climate from region to region, although the marine influences are less inland. Rainfall is distributed throughout the year with a dryer period from April to September. Especially in fall and winter strong atlantic low-pressure systems can bring gales and uncomfortable weather. Sometimes easterly winds can cause a more continantal type of weather, warm and dry in the summer, but cold and clear in the winter with temperatures sometimes far below zero.
Belgium is a flat country and has often breezy conditions, although more in the winter than in the summer, and more among the coastal areas than inland. In the eastern regions hills cause a cooler and wetter climate with more rainfall and sometimes heavy snowfall in the winter.
The Hoge Kempen National Park (Nationaal Park Hoge Kempen) is the first National Park in Flanders, Belgium. It is located in the East of the Province of Limburg, between Genk and the Meuse River (Dutch: Maas) Valley. It includes the elevated ground that defines the watershed between that river and the low ground of the drainage basin of the Demer river that covers most of Belgian Limburg.
The digitalis, wild arum, hyacinth, strawberry, goldenrod, lily of the valley, and other plants common to temperate zones grow in abundance. Beech and oak are the predominant trees. Among mammals still found in Belgium are the boar, fox, badger, squirrel, weasel, marten, and hedgehog. The many varieties of aquatic life include pike, carp, trout, eel, barbel, perch, smelt, chub, roach, bream, shad, sole, mussels, crayfish, and shrimp.