Parc du Cinquantenaire

Parc du Cinquantenaire (44)

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of Belgian independence, King Leopold II ordered the construction of some buildings that would match the significance of the event. A large open area of parks and museums was therefore designed to occupy this former military training ground.

The idea was to build a compound with two large wings, joined by a large semicircular colonnade, which was to be ready for the celebrations of 1880. By that date, however, there had only been time to build the two exhibition zones, and it was not until 1905 that the entire project was completely finished.

What you can find here now is a large park formed by a lovely French garden in the centre and several English gardens on the sides. In the zones with greater tree coverage, which date from 1888, you can enjoy a nice walk in the shadow of the host of acacias, elms and chestnut trees. This place is, moreover, very popular, particularly at weekends, when the people of Brussels often come to spend a peaceful day out.

In one of the corners of the garden you will also find the old “Panorama of Cairo”, an Arab-style building constructed as an oriental-style folly in 1880. Later, in 1978, this building was turned into a large mosque.

Elsewhere, what will most capture your attention, even from a distance, is the striking Triumphal Arch. Inspired by the arch in Paris, this monument features, at its base, allegorical decoration of the Belgian provinces and, at the top, a sculpture entitled “Brabant Raising the National Flag”. This sculpture is one of the most highly appraised by the people of the city because of its totally patriotic nature, and was designed by Jules Lagae and Thomas Viçotte.

You will notice that the Triumphal Arch is connected to the two side buildings by a great colonnade. These two buildings contain two important museums: the Royal Army and Military History Museum and the Royal Museum of Art and History. 

The first of these, on the left, was established in 1910 and moved to its current site in 1923. Here, military weapons and clothing from the thirteenth century to the present day are on exhibition. You can therefore see items associated with aviation, medals, canons, sabres and uniforms. In addition, there is an interesting area on the 1830 War of Independence and two new sections that cover the two World Wars. 

Elsewhere, the Royal Museum of Art and History, also known as the Fiftieth Anniversary Museum, is one of the largest in Europe. This museum houses an enormous collection of samples from human civilisation from the prehistoric period to current times. It has over 140 rooms that include items such as a large collection of African pieces and a extensive variety of Mayan, Aztec and Inca works. Likewise, it has sections on Egypt, Greece, Persia and the Near East. There are also some significant collections of lacework, tapestries and stained glass windows, and examples of medieval furniture.

What is more, if you are a car lover, do not leave without first visiting Autoworld, a prestigious museum of old cars. Here, you may admire the gleaming bodywork of cars as significant as the first Benz, from 1886, or the model T Ford from 1924. It also, moreover, contains old engines and the Cadillac that was once used by President Kennedy. Fancy a spin through the past?

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