Europa 1900
f there is one city that has become synonymous with AN, it would be Bruxelles. And if there is one artist that has come to embody the ideals of AN, it would be Victor Horta. In a city besieged by economic difficulties and cultural tensions,  Horta has come to represent that which is good about Bruxelles. An unfair image, no doubt, as the eclectic capital of Europe can pride itself on the most sumptous Flemish-style square (Grand’Place), an avant-garde Europe district, perhaps the most impressive Viennese Secession house (Josef Hoffmann's Palais Stoclet, unfortunately not open to visits) and one of the finest Art Deco houses in the world (Van Buuren House). And let's not forget, the best chocolate to be found anywhere. But Bruxelles' reputation as an AN city is well deserved. In no other city can you stroll through entire neighbourhoods flush with AN style, as you can in the Av. Louise neighbourhood near the Horta house and further south along Av. Brugmann in the Saint Gilles quarter. With some extra time, the Av. Bertrand quarter in the northern suburb of Schaerbeek also contains many AN constructions. For casual visitors, a trip to the Horta house is sufficient and indeed, it has become a de rigeur tourist site. But anyone with a deeper interest in AN simply must spend the time walking through the neighbourhoods, and locating other outlying gems scattered throughout town. Bruxelles is unfortunately not the simplest city to navigate on public transportation, so I highly recommend picking up a Metro/Tram/Bus guide from any station to get around.

ictor Horta surfaced at the right time and the right place to lead the vanguard of the AN movement. Southward expansion of the city's residential and commercial zones fueled by growth at the turn of the century, and the appearance of new technologies combined with public curiosity to experiment with styles, provided a fertile pasture for Horta's talents to emerge. It is perhaps not by chance that Horta was trained in ironwork like his spiritual counterparts Guimard and Gaudi. An intimate knowledge of how to shape and manipulate new metallic materials permitted these artists to push the limits on creating novel shapes and patterns. Horta's first commission, the Kindertuin (kindergarten) at 40 rue Ghislain in what is now the working class neighbourhood of the Marolles, displayed a mature mastery of bold ironwork design, which would prove to be a harbinger of what was to come. 

t is a real shame that Horta's masterpieces, the Hotel Tassel and the Hotel van Eetvelde, are not open to the public (except for organized visits through the ARAU foundation). The supreme airy elegance of his interior designs can only be guessed at from the less extroverted facades. The Hotel Tassel (6 rue Paul Emile-Jansson, off of Av. Louise) was perhaps the first great stroke of the AN movement in 1893, but now appears to be boarded up and seeking occupants. The Hotel van Eetvelde (2-4 av Palmerston) is situated in a lush, chic neighbourhood overlooking a lovely pond, and appears to serve now as the Jamaican embassy. Not far from the van Eetvelde house, the curious St. Cyr House (11 sq Ambiorix, designed by Gustave Strauven) is most definitely worth an admiring glance. Its ironwork fences and rails do not suffer from comparison with Horta.

he best Horta house to visit would be...the Horta house (25 rue Americaine), that he constructed for himself and is now open as a museum. Inside, herds of tourists jam through the narrow stairways and rooms to witness firsthand how Horta's family lived in AN style. Photography inside is not permitted, but the gift shop sells postcards not only of this house, but of other Horta sites such as the Hotel Tassel. The Tassel and the Hotel Solvay (224 av Louise) are both an easy walk from the Horta house.

y personal picks for other beautiful AN buildings to see are the Hotel Hannon (1 av. Jonction, off of av. Brugmann) and the Maison Cauchie (5 rue des Francs/Frankenstraat, across from the Parc du cinquantenaire/Jubelpark). The Hotel Hannon now houses the Musée des Contretypes,but let's face it, that's not why anybody visits the place. Designed by Jules Brunfaut in 1903, in Horta-esque style, the Hotel's stunning stained glass windows designed by Emile Gallé are breathtaking. The Maison Cauchie (Paul Cauchie, 1905), in Secessionist rather than Horta style, shows a remarkable facade and can be visited at certain times as a museum or for public expositions.

o grab a quick lunch, the Café Falstaff (19 rue Henri Maus) across from the Bourse/Beurs building just west of the Grand'Place, serves up reasonably good and economical fare. North of the centre, have a midafternoon drink at the Ultieme Hallucinatie (Ultimate Hallucination, 316 rue Royale). Don't let the bizarre green facade fool you, inside it's flamboyant AN style right down to the piano. Other buildings less rigorously art nouveau but worth a peek are the Old England building (2 Cantersteen) containing a musical instrument museum, and the old Wacquez building (20 rue des Sables) designed by Horta and now housing the Belgian Comic Strip Centre.

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