Close to one-tenth of Belgium's population lives in the capital, Brussels (1,031,215inhabitants in 2007), which was the last of the Belgian cities to mature. Having become the administrative center, as well as the financial and business hub of the country in the course of the nineteenth century, Brussels profited from the urbanistic tendencies of the sovereigns as well as from the striking beauty of the rural outskirts, or boroughs, which it absorbed and transformed into residential sections. It has varied charm, combining, with graceful transitions, the perfect loveliness of its old market place with wide boulevards and stately roads radiating to the four corners of the land. The people of Brussels are renowned for their easygoing way of life, their urbanity, and their highly developed, although sometimes slightly coarse, sense of humor.
The rival of Brussels in economic importance and architectural beauty is Antwerp (461,496 inhabitants in 2006), the third or fourth largest seaport in the world and the capital of Flemish culture and art. Although Antwerp possesses the most audacious and beautiful Gothic spire in northwestern Europe, its architectural atmosphere is definitely Baroque. The spirit of Rubens' grandiloquent expression prevails in most of the buildings, ancient as well as modern. The confidence in life which is derived from great wealth and from daring, successful enterprise, to which Antwerp merchants and seafarers are addicted, breathes through the physical aspect of the town as well as through the moral and intellectual life of its people. There is something boastful and energetic in the attitude of the people of Antwerp, something forcefully rhetorical in their mentality and their expressions. This basic self-confidence is tempered only by their daily contacts with the foreign patrons of their harbor, especially the French and the British. The existence of the port is responsible for a definitely cosmopolitan atmosphere in an otherwise medieval and baroque town.
Whereas Antwerp has always been cleverly opportunist and liberal in its policy, Liege, the spiritual capital of Wallonia, for ages has been a fighting town. At the conjunction of the international river Meuse and the Ourthe, its location and atmosphere remind one of Lyons in France. More than six hundred years ago, its inhabitants forced their overlords to consult, in all-important decisions, what they called le sens du pays (the opinion of the country). Liége has a great number of gunsmiths and glassmakers and is the natural center for the coal-mining and metallurgical industries in her neighborhood. It is the gateway of the tourist region of the Ardennes. Liége is also the birthplace of André-Ernest Grétry and of César Franck, the musicians.