Category: China

The sad history of the Japanese tower and the Chinese Pavilion in Brussels

In 1900 there was a world fair in Paris. The Grand Palais and Petit Palais, as well as the nearby Pont Alexandre III, were built for this fair, and are famous Paris landmarks to this day. The fair showed novelties such as Rudolf Diesel‘s engine (running on peanut oil!),¬†Russian¬†matryoshka dolls, talking films, and escalators.

The world fair also contained a pavilion called Le Tour du Monde, designed by the French architect Alexandre Marcel. The pavilion consisted of a set of buildings showing different architectural styles from all over the world. Within the building were panoramas that showed various places in the world, such as a Chinese city, a cemetery in Constantinople, the Suez Canal, and the Angkor Wat Temple. One part of this pavilion was a pagoda in a Japanese style.

King Leopold II of Belgium visited this world fair, and was so impressed by Alexandre Marcel’s pavilion that he wanted something similar as an ornament for Brussels. He hired the architect to build in a corner of the palace grounds in Laken a Japanese tower similar to that at the world fair, and also a pavilion in the Chinoiserie style. Marcel included a small part of the world-fair pavilion in the buildings for the king, but most of it was newly designed and built. The ostensible purpose of the Japanese tower was to contain a permanent trade show “to stimulate trade with the far East”, and of the Chinese pavilion to be run as a restaurant (a French haute-cuisine restaurant of course, running a Chinese restaurant in it was never considered). I’m not sure anybody took these justifications serious, but the truth is that no restaurateur was ever interested in operating a restaurant in the Chinese pavilion, the effectiveness of the trade show was highly debatable, and in any case it only ever occupied a small part of the tower.

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