Beginning in 57 BC, Julius Caesar extended the power of Rome into the region of Europe that is now Belgium. The people he encountered there were the Belgae, one of the various Celtic tribes of early Gaul, and the Romans dubbed their new province Gallia Belgica. In the fourth century AD, with Rome in decline, control of Gaul was ceded to the Franks, a Germanic tribe that the weakened empire employed as mercenaries. As the Franks flourished, they decided to dispense with their Roman employers. By 431, they had established an independent dynasty, the Merovingian, with its capital at Tournai. Soon after, under Clovis I (c.466-511), the Merovingians succeeded in pummeling the last of the Romans in Gaul. They held large parts of present day France and Belgium as well as southwestern Germany. Clovis also adopted Christianity, thus gaining the support of the Church.
The heart of Brussels and the place to start getting to know the city is the Grand'Place. To the east of the Grand'Place, the ground rises toward the upper town where the Royal Palace and the House of Parliament sit. In between these two is a formal park with fountains in the French style with statues where Belgians fought the Dutch for their independence. Slightly to the south is the Place du Grand Sablon, the center of exquisite antique galleries and sumptuous restaurants.
Just to the north of the Grand Sablon is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, which comprises the museums of Ancient Art and of Modern Art. Both possess enormous collections featuring many outstanding works. Among the rooms not to be missed is the collection of Flemish paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries.