An ornately decorated Chinese Pavilion and a bright red Japanese Pagoda. Two unexpected structures that appear suddenly, as if to disturb the green monotony of the lush gardens that surround the Royal Estate of Laeken. Or perhaps, to confirm Brussels’ reputation of being a city of surrealism.
Constructed by order of the ”Builder King” Leopold II who, during his visit to the World Exhibition held in Paris in 1900, became so captivated by the exotic wonders of the ”Tour du Monde” display of Oriental architecture, that decided there and then to bring some of it closer to home.
Thus the idea of building an open-air museum consisting of various exotic pavilions was born. A year later, Paris architect Alexandre Marcel (1860-1928) was commissioned to build a ‘Japanese tower’ followed by a ‘Chinese pavilion’, which would become a luxurious Chinese restaurant.
None of the buildings where ever used for the purpose they were built. The King’s idea of an open-air museum was quickly abandoned, the buildings were handed over to the Belgian State and today they are managed by the Royal Museums of Art and History.
The pagoda comes with its very own Japanese garden; inside, the halls that lead up to the tower are lined with some incredibly detailed tinted glass panels which tell terrifying stories of war, snippets of samurai and geisha lives, complete with dragons and tigers; sculpted panels decorated in Yokohama; and larger-than-life vases.
The Chinese pavilion owes its ornate exterior to woodwork imported directly from Shanghai. Step inside however, and you are back in a Brussels’ aristocratic mansion with high ceilings, chandeliers and art nouveau influences evident even in the bathroom.
This smaller, plainer structure behind the Chinese Pavilion was built for the coaches and automobiles of the would-be diners of the restaurant. Like its fancier neighbours, it was never used for the purpose it was built; it became the Museum of Japanese Art, instead.
Attention: all three buildings are currently closed for renovation, until further notice.
For more information, please check the website of The Royal Museums of Art & History.
Museums of the Far East
Avenue Van Praet 44
Shared image credits (Konstantinos & Lia)
02 June 2012