Hidden Belgium: The Galerie Bortier

Hidden Belgium: The Galerie Bortier

It’s one of the most romantic and seductive spots in Brussels, yet almost no one ever enters the Galerie Bortier. Completed by Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar in 1848, this dark, wood-panelled arcade was intended to imitate the success of Cluysenaar’s St Hubert arcade.

Named after the owner of the land it was built on, the Bortier Arcade was a more modest design, with shops on the ground floor, apartments above and a beautiful curved glass roof to protect the passage from the rain.

It looks like an old Paris arcade. Located on Rue de la Madeleine, just few steps from Central Station, you would think it would be mobbed with tourists. But for some reason it has never been successful. It is now usually deserted except for a few book lovers who come to browse in antique print shops and squeeze inside cramped second-hand bookstores.

Someone will occasionally take over an empty shop. Maybe turn it into a café. Or an art gallery. But they will almost always fail. On my walking tours, I used to call it the place where dreams come to die.

Then one day the owner of a comic book store came out to correct me. ‘This place hasn’t died,’ he pointed out. Fair enough, I thought. I will call it the place where dreams are hard to realise.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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