Country of Small Holdings

Brussels is part of the Eurodelta, the river delta of the Rhine, Meus and Scheldt, a historically very fertile and vibrant region, for a large part overlapping with the cultural borders of the Low Lands [1] [AWB, 2018]. Central in the Eurodelta lies the city of Brussels, as a frontier towards the hillier hinterlands. All over the world, such deltas are the result of centuries of the deposition of alluvial sediment, that through years of cultivation were transformed into the most fertile agricultural topsoils. At the same time, these deltas are a particularly interesting place for port and trade activities. On these deltas, a lot of people troop together, in cities and metropolises. Hamlets, villages and towns have been growing along and between the rivers since the Middle Ages. There was always an important interaction with a highly productive landscape: soil quality and the availability of water determined where specific crops could be cultivated intensively; and those crops then determined which urban economy could flourish [AWB, 2018]. The landscape and the network of cities existed in a strong relation of interdependence and jointly contributed to the prosperity of this region.

Germania Inferior

To label the whole territory of the Low Lands as fertile, however, goes too far. As the map below shows, it is mainly the alluvial clay areas (green) and the southern loam slopes (red) that show the agricultural potential. In between, the Eurodelta is mainly interspersed with sandy areas, where only through external inputs, productive landscapes could be carved out. In this historical chapter, we will argue that a lot of the urban-rural organisation was soil-based. On a macro level, it steered the development and politics in the whole of Belgium, but also on the micro level, it structured the built-up of the Brussels urban territory.

[1] The exact demarcation of the ‘Low Lands’ as a territory has evolved along the course of Europe’s history, but is more or less defined as today’s Netherlands, Flanders (the Northern part of Belgium) and/or the Southern Netherlands (Belgium), possibly with Nord-Pas-de-Calais (France) and Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany). In this research, we consider the Low Lands or the Eurodelta as the specific physical system of the river delta, that has led to a unique metropolitan system. However, because of administrative borders, some images or maps are limited to the Flemish Region and the Netherlands. 

The Soil of the Low Lands, 2018