During the Middle Ages, the Léopold district was largely uninhabited. A small summer house replete with a vineyard was built by the dukes of Burgundy in the 15th century. In the 16th century, a number of aristocratic villas joined that of Cardinal Granvelle, adviser to Margaret of Parma, who built his second residence along the banks of the Maelbeek stream. In the 18th century, only one paved road—the chaussée d'Etterbeek—traversed the area.
   Forming a part of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, the area began to be intensely developed following Belgian independence in 1831. Aristocratic and upper-middle-class city residents began to build homes that afforded them greater space beyond the inner ring road with the added bonus that produce was cheaper outside the city toll gates. They disdained the left bank of the Senne River where the work of building boulevards on the site of the second town wall remained unfinished and where factories and workshops proliferated.
   In 1838, real estate developers formed the Société civile pour l'Agrandissemant et l'Embellissemment de Bruxelles to undertake a vast urban development scheme in the vacant areas beyond the boulevard du Régent. King Leopold I, anxious to promote an area laid out with wide, straight streets so different from those in the lower town, purchased shares and consented to give his name to the new district. In 1839, to encourage building, the city opened a new gate—porte Léopold—joining rues Lambermont and Belliard. Under a law of 7 April 1853, the city acquired the district in an agreement, one of the stipulations of which mandated the city to fund creation of a parade grounds for army maneuvers (the current site of the Cinquantenaire) to replace the Champs de Mars near the porte de Namur, where new construction made artillery practices no longer possible. In 1857, a viaduct carrying the rue de la Loi across the Maelbeek valley was completed. Development aimed to attract aristocrats and the wealthy Catholic bourgeoisie.
   By the 1860s, the quarter had become the city's richest and most fashionable. Major transformations took place from the end of the 1950s. The residential character of the district was profoundly altered with construction of office buildings, which are now pervasive. The building of the Berlaymont marked the area's identification as the location of European institutions, with which it has now become synonymous. A portion of the quarter is now known as the European district. Organizations affiliated with the European Union now account for approximately 36 percent of total office building space. Construction has been ongoing since the late 1980s, and a plan to redesign the European district to diversity its character by introducing residences, shops, and cultural venues, while at the same time meeting heightened needs for security, is currently under study.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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