The Parc du Cinquantenaire is one of the famous monuments of Brussels and one of the most beautiful in the world. It was planned, as the name implies, to be the center of celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence and was commissioned by King Leopold II. He wanted something of simple design but sufficient grandeur and majesty to show that in those 50 years the Kingdom of Belgium had become a magnificent and prosperous country. Gideon Bordiau was the primary architect who labored on the project for 20 years until he died in 1904 after which King Leopold II employed the French architect Charles Girault to finish the job. However, it was a struggle to complete and meant a fight with the government that only one as firm and determined as Leopold II could win.
As with almost everything in those days the Belgian government did not want to spend alot of money on anything (as opposed to these days when the government wants to spend too much money on everything) and they fought Leopold II for every penny that was to go for the project and this put construction far behind schedule. The ground where it was built was originally an empty field where the Belgian army was drilled. The centerpiece of the parc was to be the magnificent triumphal arch, bigger even than the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. However, because of the struggles with the government over money this was not even finished when the 50th anniversary celebrations were held. A wooden temporary arch had to be put up for the occasion and the final version was not done until 1905 and so the full glory was at least available for the 75th anniversary of independence. Even then, it was only done when a frustrated King Leopold II paid the expenses from his own money to finish the parc.
Today the Cinquantenaire is still a monument of proud, independent Belgium. The main attractions now are the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History which goes back to 1910 when such displays were so popular a full museum was established. It houses artifacts from the entire military history of Belgium from the colonial forces of the Congo, both World Wars, volunteers sent to Mexico and Italy, expeditions to the Orient and modern peace-keeping missions. There is also a magnificent art museum displaying treasures from ancient Egypt, classical Greece and Rome, the Orient, the Middle East and creative objects and items from the local area back to the Middle Ages. There is a museum called Autoworld displaying historic automobile models from across Europe and the United States. In the northwest corner is the Great Mosque of Brussels. Originally a pavillion built in the Muslim-Arabic style, in 1967 to mark a visit by the King of Saudi Arabia to Belgium King Baudouin decided to turn the pavillion into a functioning mosque. It also has an Arabic language and Islamic religion schools.
The Cinquantenaire, as a parc, has undergone many modifications over the years from its begining as a setting for the exhibition and independence celebrations. It will surely undergo more modifications in the future depending on the need. It is a glorious spectacle, displaying well the accomplishments of the past and present alike. It must also be one of the most welcoming to visitors and interactive national monuments in the world. The country owes a debt of gratitude to King Leopold II for the laborious completion of this exceptionally beautiful tribute to the Kingdom of Belgium.