Designed to celebrate 50th anniversary (cinquantenaire) of the founding of Belgium, the Cinquantenaire (Golden Jubilee) Park – Jubelpark in Dutch – was actually not finished until well into the 20th century. There was a lot of squabbling about what should be built, and where, and in whose name etc., such is the penchant of European royalty.
The Triumphal Arch, erected in 1905, was built as the gateway to the city and is one of Brussels’ most visible landmarks. The park itself can provide many hours of interesting, absorbing and strange diversions. You could easily spend a few days in and around the park without getting bored or doing the same thing twice. There are plenty of things to do if (when) it rains.
Things you may want to look at include:
The Grand Mosque: Lent to Faisal ibn Abd al-Aziz of Saudi Arabia on a 99-year lease as a sweetener to strengthen ties between the two royal families. It’s now a thriving place of worship and Islamic cultural centre. Look for the building that looks most like a mosque, you won’t miss it.
The Military Museum: A surprisingly large and cheap to visit collection of various war memorabilia from The Great War onwards. It also includes a flight and space division with full-sized aircraft to look at. Don’t miss what is one of the tattiest and sad-looking snack bars in Belgium. This really is the only low point in an otherwise intriguing few hours.
Autoworld: Cars. Lots of cars. If you like cars, bikes and other forms of motorized transport, you’re in luck. Particularly interesting, as it has an extensive range of Belgian vehicles, some you may not have seen if you hail from elsewhere in Europe. Special exhibitions are frequent, making it a pleasant lucky dip in the summer months.
Art and History Museum: Kind of tucked around a corner and out of the way of the main drag, this is still well worth a visit. It appears to have a very broad brief as to what it can display, so you’ll find prehistoric pieces in one room and Islamic, African, Korean and Egyptian, to name but a few, in the others. An eclectic and interesting way to spend half a day or so.
Not to spoil the surprise, you can discover for yourself the many hidden art treasures and off-beat buildings contained inside the walls of the park, or simply do what others do – buy an ice cream and lay on the grass enjoying the sun.
Metro Station: Merode