Topography, &c.—Belgium lies between 49° 30′ and 51° 30′ N., and 2° 32′ and 6° 7′ E., and on the land side is bounded by Holland on the N. and N.E., by Prussia and the grand duchy of Luxemburg on the E. and S.E., and by France on the S. Its land frontiers measure 793 m., divided as follows:—with Holland 269 m., with Prussia 60 m., with the grand duchy 80 m. and with France 384 m. In addition it has a sea-coast of 42 m. The western portion of Belgium, consisting of the two Flanders, Antwerp and parts of Brabant and Hainaut, is flat, being little above the level of the sea; and indeed at one point near Furnes it is 7 ft. below it. The same description applies more or less to the north-east, but in the south of Hainaut and the greater part of Brabant the general level of the country is about 300 ft. above the sea, with altitudes rising to more than 600 ft. South of the Meuse, and in the district distinguished by the appellation “Between Sambre and Meuse,” the level is still greater, and the whole of the province of Luxemburg is above 500 ft., with altitudes up to 1650 ft. In the south-eastern part of the province of Liége there are several points exceeding 2000 ft. The highest of these is the Baraque de Michel close to the Prussian frontier, with an altitude of 2190 ft. The Baraque de Fraiture, north-east of La Roche, is over 2000 ft. While the greater part of western and northern Belgium is devoid of the picturesque, the Ardennes and the Fagnes districts of “Between Sambre and Meuse” and Liége contain much pleasant and some romantic scenery. The principal charm of this region is derived from its fine and extensive woods, of which that called St Hubert is the best known. There are no lakes in Belgium, but otherwise it is exceedingly well watered, being traversed by the Meuse for the greater part of its course, as well as by the Scheldt and the Sambre. The numerous affluents of these rivers, such as the Lys, Dyle, Dender, Ourthe, Amblève, Vesdre, Lesse and Semois, provide a system of waterways almost unique in Europe. The canals of Belgium are scarcely less numerous or important than those of Holland, especially in Flanders, where they give a distinctive character to the country. But the most striking feature in Belgium, where so much is modern, utilitarian and ugly, is found in the older cities with their relics of medieval greatness, and their record of ancient fame. These, in their order of interest, are Bruges, Antwerp, Louvain, Brussels, Ghent, Ypres, Courtrai, Tournai, Furnes, Oudenarde and Liége. It is to them rather than to the sylvan scenes of the Ardennes that travellers and tourists flock.
The climate may be described as temperate and approximating to that of southern England, but it is somewhat hotter in summer and a little colder in winter. In the Ardennes, owing to the greater elevation, the winters are more severe.
Geology.—Belgium lies upon the northern side of an ancient mountain chain which has long been worn down to a low level and the remnants of which rise to the surface in the Ardennes, and extend eastward into Germany, forming the Eifel and Westerwald, the Hunsrück and the Taunus. Westward the chain lies buried beneath the Mesozoic and Tertiary beds of Belgium and the north of France, but it reappears in the west of England and Ireland. It is the “Hercynian chain” of Marcel Bertrand, and is composed entirely of Palaeozoic rocks. Upon its northern margin lie the nearly undisturbed Cretaceous and Tertiary beds which cover the greater part of Belgium. The latest beds which are involved in the folds of this mountain range belong to the Coal Measures, and the final elevation must have taken place towards the close of the Carboniferous period. The fact that in Belgium Jurassic beds are found upon the southern and not upon the northern margin indicates that in this region the chain was still a ridge in Jurassic times. In the Ardennes the rocks which constitute the ancient mountain chain belong chiefly to the Devonian System, but Cambrian beds rise through the Devonian strata, forming the masses of Rocroi, Stavelot, &c., which appear to have been islands in the Devonian sea. The Ordovician and Silurian are absent here, and the Devonian rests unconformably upon the Cambrian; but along the northern margin of the Palaeozoic area, Ordovician and Silurian rocks appear, and beds of similar age are also exposed farther north where the rivers have cut through the overlying Tertiary deposits. Carboniferous beds occur in the north of the Palaeozoic area. Near Dinant they are folded amongst the Devonian beds, but the most important band runs along the northern border of the Ardennes. In this band lie the coalfields of Liége, and of Mons and Charleroi. It is a long and narrow trough, which is separated from the older rocks of the Ardennes by a great reversed fault, the faille du midi. In the southern half of the trough the folding of the Coal Measures is intense; in the northern half it is much less violent. The structure is complicated by a thrust-plane which brings a mass of older beds upon the Coal Measures in the middle of the trough. Except along the southern border of the Ardennes, and at one or two points in the middle of the Palaeozoic massif, Triassic and Jurassic beds are unknown in Belgium, and the Palaeozoic rocks are directly and unconformably overlaid by Cretaceous and Tertiary deposits. The Cretaceous beds are not extensive, but the Wealden deposits of Bernissart, with their numerous remains of Iguanodon, and the chalk of the district about the Dutch frontier near Maastricht, with its very late Cretaceous fauna, are of special interest.
Exclusive of the Ardennes the greater part of Belgium is covered by Tertiary deposits. The Eocene, consisting chiefly of sands and marls, occupies the whole of the west of the country. The Oligocene forms a band stretching from Antwerp to Maastricht, and this is followed towards the north by a discontinuous strip of Miocene and a fairly extensive area of Pliocene. The Tertiary deposits are similar in general character to those of the north of France and the south of England. Coal and iron are by far the most important mineral productions of Belgium. Zinc, lead and copper are also extensively worked in the Palaeozoic rocks of the Ardennes.
Area and Population.—The area comprises 2,945,503 hectares, or about 11,373 English sq. m., and the total population in December 1904 was 7,074,910, giving an average of 600 per sq. m.
English sq. m.
| Population at
end of 1904.
| Population per |
sq. m. 1904.
The population was made up of 3,514,491 males and 3,560,419 females. The rate at which the population has increased is shown as follows:—From 1880 to 1890 the increase was at the rate annually of 54,931, from 1890 to 1900 at the rate of 62,421, and for the five years from 1900 to 1904 at the rate of 66,200. In 1831 the population of Belgium was 3,785,814, so that in 75 years it had not quite doubled. The following table gives the total births and deaths in certain years since 1880:—
|Year.||Total births.||Total deaths.||Excess of births.|
These figures show that the births were 23,674 more in 1904 than in 1880, while the deaths were nearly 4000 fewer, with a population that had increased from 5½ to 7 millions. Of 191,721 births in 1904, 12,887 or 6.7% were illegitimate. Statistics of