Rue Marché aux Herbes 1000, Brussels, Belgium
The man behind the impressive facial hair is Charles Buls. From 1881 to 1889, he was mayor of the City of Brussels (a municipality consisting of Brussels’ old town, and a few other neighbourhoods). Aside his moustache, Charles Buls had much to be proud of. Not least, his support of reforms that would allow the education of women in Belgium. And not just that, but the advanced education of women. And yet, he is perhaps most remembered for his defense of Brussels’ old town against modernization. In the 1880s, King Leopold II of the Belgians privately controlled a massive part of central Africa, an area now known as the Congo. His own colony, for his own personal use, and for him to exploit personally. He drained the area of ivory, rubber and minerals and planned to use the money he made to regenerate and modernize his capital city, Brussels. Which would probably mean building lots of grand, modern architecture with showy gold bits. But Charles Buls said no to these plans to modernise Brussels’ old town. Old cities and old streets have a peculiar charm for all who are not insensible to art impressions, he wrote in an essay on the subject. They may not be called beautiful, but they are attractive; they please by that delightful disorder that here results not from art but from chance….It was an argument Charles Buls won. And thank God he did. One of the areas he was protecting, Brussels’ opulent and Medieval Grand Place, is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is, as it always has been, the beating heart of the city. A heart very nearly ripped out, but for the intervention of the impressively moustached Charles Buls.