The Parc du Cinquantenaire is a large urban park within the European Quarter in Brussels. As well as offering a peaceful respite to the bustle of working life in this busy district, the park offers the traveller interesting museums and excellent architecture. When we visited, we found that we were able to spend a full day checking out all of its attractions.
The eastern part of the park is dominated by the U-shaped complex which was commissioned for the 1880 National Exhibition, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Belgian Independence. The monumental architecture is very impressive and non-more so than the Triumphal Arch, which was erected in 1905.
The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History
Our first stop was the building on the northern side, which houses The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History. This military museum opened in 1923 and its collections cover ten centuries of military history, from medieval armours to present-day armoured vehicles and airplanes, including the recent addition of a F-16 Fighting Falcon.
We took a couple of hours to walk round, but any military enthusiast could spend far longer. Our favourite part was the aviation section, where you can get up close to many iconic aircraft.
A somewhat hidden feature of the museum is the roof terrace. It is well worth seeking this out, since you get breath-taking views of the park and European Quarter.
Directly across from the military museum is Autoworld – a total delight for anyone interested in automobiles. The museum is based on the Mahy Collection and has a permanent display of more than 250 vehicles. However, the entire collection actually amounts to around 1,000 vehicles.
Autoworld displays some of the earliest cars all the way through to modern classics in the making. There are special sections on sports cars, automobiles of the Belgian Royal Family and micro / bubble cars. Interestingly, the collection also focuses on Belgian makes, such as Minerva, Germain, FN, Imperia, Fondu, Vivinus, Nagant, Belga-Rise and Miesse, all car manufacturers that we had never actually heard of.
The Art and History Museum
Around the corner from Autoworld resides The Art and History Museum. This museum consists of several parts, which include a national collection of artefacts from prehistory to the Merovingian period (751AD), and a collection of artefacts from the antiquity of the Near East, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Also on display are artefacts from non-European civilisations, such as China, Japan, Korea, pre-Columbian America and the Islamic world.
The big draw for us, however, was the Horta exhibition which was being displayed for a number of months during 2018. The museum had painstakingly recreated the interior of the Wolfers Frères jewellery shop, with is stunning mahogany display cases. During its most successful period Wolfers Frères had commissioned the Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta to design their new Brussels store in 1912. To top it all off, the exhibition has filled the display cases with beautiful Art Nouveau jewellery.
The Parc du Cinquantenaire
After checking out the museums, it was now time to breathe in the fresh air and relax in the park. We walked from the National Exhibition buildings down the full length of the park. In the north-wester corner of the park, we found the Great Mosque of Brussels. It is the oldest mosque in Brussels and is the seat of the Islamic and Cultural Centre of Belgium. Also, next door to the mosque, is the alluringly named Temple of Human Passions, which is also known as the Pavillon Horta-Lambeaux.
The Pavillon Horta-Lambeaux
This building is a neoclassical pavilion built by Victor Horta in 1896 in the form of a Greek temple. Although classical in appearance at first sight, the building does not have a single straight line. The design by the young Horta shows his first steps along his journey to developing his famous Art Nouveau style. The pavilion was built to house Jef Lambeaux’s large marble relief called ‘Human Passions’. The temple has quite a restricted set of opening times, so unfortunately, we were unable to enter, so we will have to put it on our bucket list for our next visit!
Join us next time when our family adventures continue in Brussels, Belgium.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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