A website by War Heritage Institute

History of Cinquantenaire Park

History of Cinquantenaire Park

The Jubilee park

The Museum’s story starts in the 19th century. The Jubilee Park is then just an exercise ground for the Civic Guard who holds its Sunday meetings there. Urban expansion creates a residential area, connecting the town to its suburbs.

In 1875 Belgian architect Gédéon Bordiau draws what is to become the Jubilee Park: for the fiftieth anniversary of Belgian independence he imagines a green belt with exhibition buildings. The idea meets with general approval and it is even decided to extend the park. Later, in 1888, for the Great International Contest for Science and Industry, the complex receives its definitive name: the “Jubilee Park”.

The build of the arcades starts in 1890. Financial problems however kill the project and the elements already completed are topped with a plaster-of-Paris construction for the world fair of 1897. Bordiau’s death in 1904 causes further delays. Leopold II then calls on French architect Charles Girault. The latter redraws the blueprints and realizes a majestic triple arch in record-breaking time. The monument is inaugurated on September 27, 1905, for the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence.

Later adjustments are made for the 1910 world fair and the park then largely obtains its present-day aspect: two wings consisting of great halls connected to each other by a semi-circular colonnade and an impressive triple arch as an architectural eye-catcher.

Today only the Military Museum still possesses the original building as designed by Bordiau, for the one used by the Royal Museums for Art and History burnt down in 1946, only to be replaced by a modern building, thus forever breaking the symmetry of the original set-up.

The Military Museum

For the 1910 world fair a young officer, Louis Leconte, brings together some nine hundred objects illustrating Belgium’s military past.

The exhibition meets with great success and the authorities decide to maintain the collection, to house it in the former Military Academy buildings at La Cambre Abbey and to put Louis Leconte in charge. The Military Museum is born.

After the First World War the ensemble grows through gifts and donations by foreign governments. Leconte can also take his pick from equipment left behind by the Germans. The collections are bursting at the seams and a move becomes imperative. In 1923 the Museum takes possession of the north wing of the Jubilee palaces. Louis Leconte, who left active military service, is appointed curator in chief.

During the Second World War the Germans occupy the Museum and the institution only reopens after the conflict. The Museum then diversifies and creates new departments: military history, archives and library, print room and map room. In that way, the institution’s scientific character is put into the limelight and concepts such as conservation, restoration and presentation become key factors.

New sections are established: in 1972 the Air and Space section sees the light of day and in 1980 the armoured vehicle section is opened. In 1986 the Museum welcomes the magnificent arms and armour collection formerly on display at the Hal Gate Museum (a mediaeval remains in Brussels). In 1996 the Navy finds a safe harbour at the Museum. All forces are thus represented.

The Military Museum today

Today the Royal Military Museum occupies no less than five large exhibition galleries covering more or less 40,000 m2. The architecture and the atmosphere are unique. From the Historic Gallery with its displays recalling times long gone to the Bordiau Gallery with its modern museology: in his wanderings through the Museum the visitor not only discovers evolving collections, but also new presentations.