The most alluring monument in Jubelpark in Brussels is the Cinquantenaire Arch, which took quite a bit more time to finish than was originally intended. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Belgium’s independence, King Leopold II wanted to erect this triumphal arch in time for the 1880 world exhibition, but sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. By 1900, the Cinquantenaire Arch still wasn’t finished, having been quite a bone of contention between the king and the Belgian government. It must have seemed to many Brussels citizens at the time that it would never be completed. Alas, in 1905 the monument received its final touches, and today it graces Jubelpark with undeniable grace. To get to Jubelpark, head due east from the city’s central Grand Place. You can walk there, take the metro to the Merode stop, or hail a cab if you prefer. In the summer, the park serves as a venue for various events, and it is where runners begin the annual twenty-kilometer (12.4-mile) Brussels race.
Jubelpark is the Dutch name for Parc du Cinquantenaire, which is found in the European Quarter of Belgium’s capital city. The European Quarter is the part of Brussels where various European Union institutions are based. Jubilee Park Brussels, as Jubelpark is known in English, was designed for the same purpose as its central Cinquantenaire Arch. Belgium and its people wanted to show the rest of the world just how proud they were of their history and independence by hosting an 1880 world exhibition. Former military exercising grounds found just outside of the city center were chosen as the site for Jubelpark, and these one-time open plains were quickly transformed into something special. In addition to attractive gardens, a series of waterfalls and ponds were integrated into the park, and King Leopold II also commissioned the handsome complex of buildings that flank the centerpiece that is the Cinquantenaire Arch.
Work on Jubilee Park Brussels and its central Cinquantenaire Arch started in the 1870s, though as mentioned, not everything was ready for the 1880 celebration. The arch proved to be a larger and more expensive task than originally thought. Only the column bases were done by the exposition, and so wooden panels and plenty of imagination were employed to create a temporary arch. Far less spectacular than the finished product, this temporary Cinquantenaire Arch nonetheless served its purpose. After the Golden Jubilee was over and it was time to get back to business, the Belgian government didn’t take too kindly to the idea of spending a considerable amount of money on an arch. King Leopold II got his way in the end by use of private funding. While the Cinquantenaire Arch may have not been ready for Belgium’s fiftieth anniversary of independence celebration, it was looking quite dapper for the country’s 75th anniversary party in 1905.
The Cinquantenaire Arch at Jubilee Park Brussels is the world’s second tallest and widest triumphal arch. Only the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is larger in scale. Topping the impressive Cinquantenaire Arch is a bronze quadriga. A quadriga is a horse-driven chariot that was used for races in the ancient Olympic Games in Greece, and Romans also raced them in other games. A certain attachment to Greek and Roman gods and heroes also characterizes quadrigas, and the one atop the Cinquantenaire Arch represents the province of Brabant, which was formerly a major Belgian region. The central figure in the quadriga is raising a flag of independence, marking Belgium’s 1830 break from the Netherlands. While examining the Cinquantenaire Arch in Jubilee Park Brussels, take note of the mosaics that are found on the arch’s sides. Added between the years of 1920 and 1932, these mosaics depict friendly scenes that are intended to show Belgium’s peaceful nature.
Jubelpark has more than its fantastic arch to explore. The Bordiau Halls are intriguing on an architectural level. They were the only structures that were ready for the 1880 expo, and they were inspired by London’s Crystal Palace. Inside the northern Bordiau Hall is the Army Museum Brussels. This museum boasts an impressive collection of war memorabilia, including historical weapons, suits of armor, and twentieth century relics such as Nazi rally flags and a car used by President John F. Kennedy for a visit to Berlin. Open Tuesday thru Sunday, the Royal Museum of the Army and Military History, as it is more formerly known, is free to visitors. There is a fee for the Musee du Cinquantenaire, or Cinquantenaire Museum, and it is worth every penny. All kinds of antiques and vestiges from the past are housed here, including medieval decorative arts, some wonderful tapestries, and even a vase from sixth century Greece. Head to the southern hall of Jubelpark if you like cars. Autoworld has hundreds of vintage cars on display, and it too is worth the price of admission. The history of the automobile can be traced here, and it’s really a great attraction even if you aren’t a big car enthusiast.