From Congo Museum to RMCA
1897 : International Exhibition
In 1897, King Leopold II took advantage of the Brussels International Exhibition to promote the Congo in Tervuren.
Import and export products, ethnographic objects and stuffed animals were exhibited in the Art Nouveau-style Colonial Palace, built especially for the occasion.
Several Congolese villages were erected in the park, alongside many other attractions. Typical freshwater fish of Congo were exhibited in a subterranean passageway. The exhibition was a huge success, attracting more than 1.2 million visitors over six months.
1898 : The Congo Museum
The 1897 International Exhibition piqued scientific interest in the people and animals of Central Africa, thus King Leopold II decided to build on his promotion of Congo.
The Congo Museum was established in 1898 as a permanent museum and scientific institution responsible for mounting exhibitions for the Belgian public and encouraging the study of Central Africa.
Little Versailles: the eventual museum building
Owing to rapidly expanding natural science collections, the Colonial Palace soon ran out of space. In 1901, Leopold II set out to make Tervuren his ‘little Versailles’, comprised of an African museum, a Chinese and Japanese Pavilion, a world school, a conference centre, French gardens and more, all in Tervuren Park, linked to the centre of Brussels via the beautiful divided lanes of Tervuren Avenue.
For his new museum, the king opted for the French neoclassical palace style of Frenchman Charles Girault, who designed Le Petit Palais in Paris. The first stone was laid in 1904. The striking staircase, domed rotunda and marble halls were intended to add prestige to the still young Belgian state. Construction continued until 1909.
1910 : Museum of Belgian Congo
When King Leopold II died in 1909, Congo Free State became Belgian Congo and the Belgian government suspended all construction in Tervuren. The Museum of Belgian Congo was officially inaugurated by King Albert I despite the lack in some rooms of Girault’s planned murals.
1960: Royal Museum for Central Africa
After Congo’s independence in 1960, the museum was renamed the Royal Museum for Central Africa. From then on, field work and collections covered a much broader area. The main building housed the exhibition halls,
facilities, and the museology, communication, educational and publication departments. Libraries and scientific departments were located in other buildings.
In 1957, a large building was erected to receive Africans during the 1958 International Exhibition: the Centre d’Accueil du Personnel Africain (‘African Personnel Reception Centre’). Since 1992, the Museum has used CAPA’s south wing to house offices, laboratories and storage rooms.