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Brussels was officially founded along the banks of the Senne River in 979 AD, when Charles of Lorraine, a descendant of Charlemagne, constructed the first permanent fortification around a small Catholic chapel and township. The early city lay low along the river and was often at risk of floods, giving it its Dutch name Broeksel, or, “home in the marsh”. City walls, constructed and expanded during the 11th to 14th centuries, allowed for a period of growth, expansion, and for a general peaceful existence, uncommon for the times.
The peace ended violently in 1695, when King Louis XIV of France sent troops to Brussels and bombarded the city with artillery, destroying the Grand Palace and nearly a third of the city in one attack, the most destructive event in the entire history of the city. This invasion brought a “Frenchification” to the region, in both culture and language. In 1830 the southern French-speaking provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands seceded from the Dutch-speaking provinces in the Belgian Revolution, the conflict taking place for the most part in Brussels. Following Belgian independence, the new king Leopold I began the massive undertaking of destroying the old city walls to make way for new construction and more modern buildings. It also helped his cause that by this point the Senne, the previous life-blood of the city, had become a serious health hazard and its entire urban area was buried over and rebuilt.
Brussels escaped the World Wars with little damage (even though it was invaded by Germany on both occasions) largely in part to its adamant policy of remaining neutral. It is this neutrality which has made the city a modern-day center for international politics and the de facto capital city of the European Union (the EU) and the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The only major controversy in the otherwise peaceful city revolves around the laws governing the language borders between the French and Dutch speaking municipalities, a tension mirrored in the rest of Belgium as a whole.