Houses and villages. – In Belgium there are no strictly Flemish or Walloon types of houses. The small farm house, like the large farm of Flanders and Wallonia, is connected to the types of houses that are encountered in neighboring countries. However, some forms of housing are confined to the provinces of N., while others are typical of the regions of S.
What strikes most foreign travelers visiting Belgium is the extraordinary density of houses in the countryside. To the S. of the Brussels-Louvain parallel the houses are grouped together, and the villages follow at three or four kilometers. just away. But in the plains of the N. the fact is even more relevant. Until the sec. XIX the small domestic industry, textile industry in the Flemish provinces, wood and iron working in the Walloon districts, made a large semi-agricultural and semi-industrial population live. Today the daily exodus of workers to industrial centers on a very dense railway network has greatly contributed to maintaining a strong contingent of workers in the countryside who no longer have any ties with the land. However, agricultural activity is still very important in Belgium. Sui polders (reclaimed land) and large farms are very common on the clayey board of middle Belgium. The polder farm is a farm comprising up to 7 and 8 buildings separated from each other, grouped around a spacious, paved courtyard with a valley in the middle for manure. The whole of the buildings is generally surrounded by a moat full of water, which in troubled times was a very widespread means of defense in the lowland countries. Opposite the entrance to the farm, often closed by a monumental door that crosses the moat, is the house, with an attractive appearance due to the fresh and laughing whiteness of its walls, the cheerful colors of the red tiles and the green of the doors. and window frames. A stepped roof, in three sections, which ends on stepped gables as well, gives the building a lot of originality. The stables, the granary, the oven, the shed, etc. follow without any order around the house. The barn, topped by a huge thatched pyramidal roof, is also a feature of coastal plain farms. Another very common type of farm in the interior of Flanders is the hofstede, made up of three distinct buildings: in the center the house and perpendicular to it on one side the stable, on the other the granary.
Many of the Flanders farms, destroyed during the war, have been rebuilt according to their primitive plan, some improved and above all adapted to a more modern concept of the agricultural industry, based on the application of machines and electricity in agricultural work. On the clayey soils of Brabant, Hesbaye and Condroz the large farm in the shape of a closed quadrilateral is of the common type and is called in the country cense wallonne, although it is not special to Wallonia. It is also found in all neighboring countries: in France, in the Netherlands, in Germany. These thick-walled constructions without internal windows, with heavy solidly locked doors, have all the appearance of fortresses. And it is precisely for defensive purposes that in the restless periods of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many large farms withdrew on themselves, concentrating their activity in an internal courtyard so as to be able to remove all communications with the outside.
Although there is no shortage of large companies, Belgium is above all a country of small crops; the modest-sized farms are uniformly scattered and differ from one location to another in their characteristic shapes and variety of materials, which give them an expressive regional physiognomy.
In the NE. in the Flemish area, in the Campine, the buildings are arranged lengthwise: the house, the stable and the granary follow each other on the facade under a single roof. Until about fifty years ago, the house of Campine was a real product of the earth: built in beaten earth covered with a thick thatched roof that dropped down to one meter from the ground. Low, elongated with its three parts in succession, it is sheltered behind a curtain of birch trees with the facade facing the sunny horizons of the S and SE. A low door and small shuttered windows denote the house. Another smaller door gives access to the stable which can also be entered from inside the house; the barn door takes all the height of the façade and sometimes even goes beyond the eaves, raising the ribbed roof in correspondence. Two dormers barely visible under the straw give light to the barn.
The Ardennes village and the isolated house in the highlands have a less pleasant aspect, more adapted to the rigors of an excessive climate. The parts of the house extend deeply, giving the house a square shape: it appears as if it were flattened under the massive roof of stone slabs. The subsoil provides all the building materials: sandstone, limestone, quartz-phyllite for the walls, schist for the roof. With its earth tone color, the Ardennes village merges with the ground itself through the fog, of which it seems only a protuberance. It shelters from the rigors of the climate behind a bulwark of hills, in the slight depressions of the ground or at the foot of the slopes in slightly hollowed valleys. On the plateau, where the wind sometimes blows hard,
But all these pleasant regional characteristics disappear before the victorious invasion of industrial materials, and the peasants’ sympathy for urban products will soon have destroyed the attraction that centuries of inheritance had given to rural centers.
Administrative divisions. – The current administrative division of Belgium (see below) is in nine provinces: all Flemish the province of Antwerp, cap. Antwerp (Antwerpen), West Flanders, chap. Bruges (Brugge), East Flanders, chap. Ghent (Gent), Limburg, chap. Hasselt; all Walloon the provinces of Hainaut (chap. Mons), Liège (cap. Liège), Namur (cap. Namur), Luxembourg (the latter with the extreme corner to the SE German, cap. Arlon); the central province of Brabant is the knight of the linguistic border, in which precisely, and more in the capital, the two elements are mixed that everywhere else have so clearly departed. Moreover, the division of the present provinces is in no way, except for the province of Antwerp, an administrative artifice devised by the Belgian state; but it keeps the old historical divisions dating back to the Middle Ages almost unchanged, the county of Flanders, the duchy of Brabant, the county of Hainaut, the county of Namur, the ecclesiastical principality of Liège, the county of Luxembourg, the duchy of Limburg. And not only the divisions and the names are maintained in this way, but also are kept alive with deep roots in the life of the individual provinces, peculiar characteristics and traditions of very long standing and rights and autonomies, which each of these ancient units jealously preserves in front of the state.