Visiting the Palace of Justice, Brussels, Belgium

By - September 25, 2012 (Updated: November 19, 2014)

Under the scaffolding of the Palace of Justice, Brussels, Belgium

Under the scaffolding of the Palace of Justice, Brussels, Belgium

If you’ve spent any time in Brussels, you’ve probably noticed the Palace of Justice’s hulking form, covered in scaffolding, towering over Place Poelaert. But few visitors peek inside this enormous building, even though it is free to enter, and definitely worth a look around.

Over the years, I’ve walked many a visitor to Place Poelaert to admire the view over central Brussels. Inevitably, they ask questions about the giant, scaffolding covered building towering overhead. Although I can spout much of the history of the Palace of Justice, until this summer, I had never been inside.

As the name suggests, the Palace of Justice houses the law courts of Belgium. It was the largest building constructed in the 19th century and, at 160 by 150 meters, is even larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. However, there was a great deal of controversy surrounding its construction.

Leopold I, the Belgian King responsible for some of the country’s most famous buildings, held a contest for the design of a new law court building. However, he rejected all of the blueprints and the minister of Justice appointed his own architect of choice, Joseph Poeleart.

Poeleart’s design required the demolition of a large section of the Marollen neighbourhood and hundreds of working-class residents were forced to relocate to Tillens-Roosendael, in Uccle. Meanwhile 75 landlords of the demolished houses received large cash settlements.

Poeleart’s design was criticised by the general public from the start, and even causeed the word ‘architect’ to become a bitter insult in the local dialect. But love it or hate it, the Palace of Justice was here to stay.

Since 2003, when renovations began on the 24,000-ton dome, the Palace of Justice has been hidden behind a shroud of scaffolding. In keeping with the building’s history of controversy, the company responsible for the renovations went out of business and now there is a heated debate as to who should be responsible for the cost of removing it all.

If you pass beyond the scaffolding, you can discover the Palace of Justice’s dramatic architecture. The building is open to the public (unless there is a particularly sensitive case being argued inside). You can wander freely inside the main lobby area, under the gigantic dome.

Here’s a taste of what you will find:

The Supreme Court of Belgium - Palace du Justice

Before you even pass through the giant main doors (top) you can see Poeleart’s dramatic architecture of the Palace of Justice.

Under the scaffolding - the Palace du Justice

Light filters through the scaffolding and into the magnificent entryway of the Palace of Justice.

The main lobby of the Palace of Justice

The main lobby of the Palace of Justice is open to the public daily.

Inside the dome of the Palace of Justice, Brussels

Look up. Look waaaay up… into the dome of the Palace of Justice.

Have you visited the Palace of Justice? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments below.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
- 6 days ago


  1. Comment by Eurotrip Tips

    Eurotrip Tips September 25, 2012 at 15:49

    I’ll definitely pay this place a visit later this month!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison September 26, 2012 at 11:11

      It’s worth a peek inside!

  2. Comment by Will B

    Will B September 25, 2012 at 18:56

    Any idea how far you can wander? What if you try going up that grand staircase?

    I must make a point of visiting! I pass the building all the time.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison September 26, 2012 at 11:11

      You can go up the staircase. It leads to a balcony where a few of the shots were taken. I passed it for years as well and it took having visitors to drag me inside 🙂

  3. Comment by Alan Hope

    Alan Hope September 26, 2012 at 01:22

    Not long ago there was some controversy about security at the Palais de Justice, and they closed all but one of the 24 entrances. I went out and took pictures of all of the 24, and posted them here:

    Not quite up to your standard of photography, but a record of how things are anyway.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison September 26, 2012 at 11:10

      That’s really interesting Alan. Thanks for the link!

  4. Comment by AfroMerry

    AfroMerry September 27, 2012 at 19:27

    Waoh, beautiful photos with beautiful editing. I’m loving them! Keep up the good job.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison September 27, 2012 at 19:37

      Thank you!

  5. Comment by Clive

    Clive October 30, 2012 at 22:34

    the picture up ‘into the dome’ actually shows a false ceiling with picture / drawing of what you could see if it were open all the way into the dome!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison October 31, 2012 at 09:13

      Yes, it is certainly painted on there and not all that convincingly 🙂

  6. Pingback: Discovering Molenbeek with the Brussels Greeters | Expat Life in Belgium, Travel and Photography | CheeseWeb

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