(Heritage Direction, Brussels Capital Region, Belgium)


Presentation of the recently installed operational workflow concerning urban archaeology in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, also capital of Europe. Reflection on the importance and contribution of the various aspects of urban archaeology to the development and town planning of a city. Illustration with numerous examples.


In 1991, 2 years after the creation of the Brussels Capital Region and consequently archaeology becoming a regional matter, the Heritage Direction of this Region started the elaboration of the Atlas of all known archaeological sites within the Region. Finished since 2009, it is now integrated in the regional on-line GIS-based town planning information system (BRUGis), forming the basis for all archaeological action within the Region.

During these years, excavations were negotiated with the landowners on a purely scientific basis. Since 2009 however, each demand for a building permit within the Brussels Capital Region is systematically examined and compared with BRUGis, in order to include specific conditions in the case of destruction of the archaeological heritage, in application of the 2004 archaeological law. This resulted automatically in a growing number of archaeological preventive interventions, for which the Brussels Government has provided a special budget. By law, these interventions can only be executed by the Region itself or by acknowledged archaeological public institutions or private organizations. For each project, the acknowledged

institution will be selected by public procurement.

The procurement guidelines specify every detail of the intervention, from its geographical limits to the reports to be created. The Laboratory for Archaeology in Brussels (LAB), created in 2007 as part of the Heritage Direction, is responsible for the restoration of the objects and samples and for the Region’s archaeological storage and archives rooms.

The urban archaeological interventions in Brussels are twofold: the so-called ‘classical’ archaeology and the building archaeology (Bauforschung), often combined in order to obtain a complete picture of the history of a place.

‘Classical’ archaeology slowly made its way through in Brussels and is mostly accepted by the different partners during the various building phases on a plot. Building archaeology however remains a difficult item. The existence of numerous older, almost fossilized building phases, today hidden underneath layers of modern plaster, is difficult to apprehend for many owners and project architects, haunted by the idea that archaeology equals the obligation to preserve the newly discovered remains. Urban archaeology should therefore not only contribute to the understanding of the history,

the topography and the chronology of a city but equally to the modern concepts of town planning and physical development of the city considering the Present Day as departure point.


Brussels, urban archaeology, Bauforschung, urban development, town planning