The Jubilee park
The story begins at the end of the 19th century. Around 1860, the area of the Jubilee park, where the museum is now located, used to be the training grounds for the Civil Guard. With the expansion of the city, new residential quarters were established to connect the city of Brussels with its suburbs. In 1875, architect Gédéon Bordiau drew the first plans: a green area with exhibition halls was to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Belgian Kingdom.
This was a huge success and it was decided to expand the park. In 1888, for the Great International Competition of Science and Industry, the complex received its permanent name: the Jubilee park and the Jubilee palaces .
In 1890, the building of a one-arched arch of triumph started. Because of financial difficulties these plans were not finalised. A temporary building was erected for the World Exhibition of 1897. The Parisian master builder, Charles Girault, a favourite with King Leopold II, continued the work after the death of architect Bordiau. He drew new plans and built the famous three-arched arch of triumph, which was inaugurated in the presence of Leopold II on September 27, 1905, for the Kingdom’s seventy-fifth anniversary.
In 1910, the project was completed and the Jubilee site received its present form: two wings, consisting of large halls, connected to each other by semi-circular colonnades and as an architectural eye catcher, the impressive three-arched arch of triumph.
Today, the Bordiau Hall is all that remains from the original plans, as drawn by G. Bordiau. The most radical change to the complex took place in 1956. A fire destroyed the section along the Avenue des Nerviens / Nerviërslaan. A new hall was constructed but differed clearly from the original design and broke the symmetry characterizing the original design.
The Military Museum
For the 1910 World Exhibition, Louis Leconte collected about nine hundred objects and called his compilation Musée de l'Armée / Museum van het Leger (Museum of the Army). These objects were to give the visitor an idea of the history of Belgian armed forces in the 19th century.
The exhibition was a big success. Politicians conceived a full fledged and permanent museum and Leconte was ordered to keep the collection. Through a Royal Decree of February 28, 1911, several very rundown galleries in the former Military School in the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos were placed at his disposal.
After World War I, things moved very quickly. The collection grew considerably because of numerous contributions by private persons and through the support of several foreign governments. On June 24, 1919, Leconte (who fought as an officer for 4 years at the Yser) was asked by the Ministry of War to make a selection out of reclaimed war material. Suddenly, the Museum had a new dimension. The building bulged with so many items that new housing was necessary. A new home for these items was found in the northern wing of the Jubilee site. On June 28, 1923, King Albert I officially opened the Military Museum.
In the meanwhile, Louis Leconte had been dismissed from active military service and was appointed head curator. During World War II, the occupying forces closed the Museum down. Only the library was accessible. After the war, the collections once again opened to the public. As far as organisation went, the museum changed significantly. Several departments were established: Military History, Archives and Library, Print Collection and the Photo Department. The scientific team also grew. Suitable displays, analysis and study of the collections resulted in better services.
The Museum was rewarded for all these efforts. Through the Royal Decree of June 11,1976, it became a federal scientific institution of the second level with three departments: Technology, Scientific Documentation and Research. Its general mission is to research, obtain, preserve, and place documents, studies, publications or objects concerning military history at the disposal of the public.
The Museum is in continuous expansion. In 1972 an Air and Space Department was inaugurated and in 1980 an Armoured Vehicles Department was formed. In 1986, an important Arms and Armour collection was transported from the Porte de Hal / Hallepoort to the Museum and in 1996, a new section, the Navy Department, opened. In 2004, the European Forum of Comtemporary Conflicts was inaugurated in the Bordiau Hall presenting an overview of twentieth century conflicts after 1918.
The Museum is dedicated to offering an overview, as complete as possible, of what takes place in the military and its impact on society. It will continue to do so in the future.