Royal Museum for Central Africa

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Royal Museum for Central Africa
The building housing the museum, view from the park at the entrance to the museum.
Royal Museum for Central Africa is located in Belgium
Royal Museum for Central Africa
Location within Belgium
Established 1898
Location Tervuren, Belgium
Coordinates 50°49′51″N 4°31′07″E / 50.830889°N 4.518497°E / 50.830889; 4.518497
Type Ethnography, Natural History and History museum
Director Guido Gryseels
Public transit access 44 Tram Line
Nearest car park Yes

The Royal Museum for Central Africa or RMCA (Dutch: Koninklijk Museum voor Centraal -Afrika or KMMA; French: Musée royal de l'Afrique central or MRAC), colloquially known as the Africa Museum, is an ethnography and natural history museum situated in Tervuren in Flemish Brabant, Belgium, just outside of Brussels. It was first built to showcase King Leopold II's Congo Free State in the 1897 World Exhibition.

The museum focuses on the Congo, a former Belgian colony. The sphere of interest however (especially in biological research) extends to the whole Congo River basin, Middle Africa, East Africa and West Africa, attempting to integrate "Africa" as a whole. Intended originally as a colonial museum, from 1960 onwards it has more focused on ethnography and anthropology. Like most museums, it houses a research department in addition to its public exhibit department.

Not all research pertains to Africa (e.g. research on the archaeozoology of Sagalassos, Turkey). Some researchers have strong ties with the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

As of November 2013, the museum is closed for renovation work (including the construction of new exhibition space) which is expected to last until May 2016 when the museum will reopen.[1]


The wooden structure designed by Hobé in 1897.

After the Congo Free State was recognized by the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, King Léopold II decided he had to show the potential of the country in an exhibition. Economic investors had to be attracted and the public had to know this faraway country better. After considering other places, the king decided to have the exhibition in his royal estate at Tervuren. When the 1897 International Exposition was held in Brussels, a colonial section was built in Tervuren with two new transport connections to Brussels city centre, the Avenue de Tervueren and the tram line. The Brussels-Tervuren Tram line 44 was built at the same time as the original museum by King Leopold II to bring the visitors from the 1897 Exhibition to the exhibition of the Congo in Tervuren.

The colonial section was hosted in the Palace of the Colonies (although there was only the one colony). The building was designed by the Belgian architect Albert-Philippe Aldophe and the classical gardens by French landscape architect Elie Lainé. In the main hall Georges Hobé designed a distinctive wooden Art Nouveau structure to evoke the forest, using Bilinga wood, an African tree. The exhibition displayed ethnographic objects, stuffed animals and in the "Hall of the Great Cultures" Congo's most important export products were displayed: coffee, cacao and tobacco. In the park, a copy of an African village was built, in which 60 Africans lived. The exposition was a huge success.

In 1898 the Palace of the Colonies became the Musée du Congo, and the exhibits became permanent. It was then that the scientific research really took off. But due to the avid collecting of the scientists, the collection soon grew too large for the museum and enlargement was needed. Léopold II saw it big: he wanted not only an Africa Museum but also Chinese and Japanese pavilions, a congress centre, a World School and so forth. Tervuren became a rich suburb of Brussels. The new museum started construction in 1904 by the French architect Charles Girault in neoclassical "palace" architecture, reminiscent of Petit Palais, with large gardens extending into the Tervuren Forest, a part of the Sonian Forest. It was officially opened by King Albert I in 1910 and named The Museum of the Belgian Congo. In 1952 the adjective "Royal" was added. In 1957, for Expo '58, a large building was constructed to receive African personnel: the Centre d'Accueil du Personnel Africain (CAPA). In 1960 the museum had its name changed to The Royal Museum for Central Africa.


Poster advertising the Congolese exhibition in Tervueren of the 1910 World Fair.

According to the website of the museum,[2] the collection contains:

  • 10,000,000 animals
  • 250,000 rock samples
  • 120,000 ethnographic objects
  • 20,000 maps
  • 56,000 wood samples
  • 8,000 musical instruments
  • 350 archives, including some of Henry Morton Stanley's journals

The herbarium collection of the Congo Museum was transferred to that of the National Botanic Garden of Belgium in 1934.


Underground area of the Royal Museum for Central Africa where much of the collection was housed.

The publicly accessible museum itself only represents 25% of the activities which the museum covers.[1]

The scientific departments, which represent the bulk of the museum's academic and research facilities, (together with the main collections) are housed in the "Palace of the Colonies", the "Stanley Pavilion" and in the CAPA building.

There are 4 departments:


Monument in the park.

There has been controversy surrounding the Museum. Some call it "a museum of a museum",[citation needed] as it shows how a museum looked like in the mid-twentieth century. For example, Expo '58 still showed a harmonious Belgian-Congolese relationship, while the country stood on the brink of independence. A more modern exhibition "The Memory of Congo" (February 4, 2005 - October 9, 2005), tried to tell the story of the Congo Free State before it became a Belgian colony. It was put on after The Guardian reported in July 2002 that, after initial outrage by Belgian historians over King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild, the state-funded museum would finance an investigation into Hochschild's allegations. The exhibition was praised by the international press, with French newspaper Le Monde claiming that "the museum has done better than revisit a particularly stormy page in history...[it] has pushed the public to join it in looking into the reality of colonialism."[3] Nevertheless, it was criticized by Hochschild in the New York Review of Books, where he accused the museum of 'distortions and evasions'.[4]

The investigatory panel, headed by Professor Jean-Luc Vellut, reported its findings in 2004. The exhibit based on them was set up the following year.[5]


  • The collections in the basement of the CAPA building, of which a large part are fish, are so large that white arrows show the way to the exit. Large firedoors prevent an ethanol fire from spreading.
  • The maceration room is only opened Friday night.


Panoramic view of Royal Museum for Central Africa

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "During the renovation". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "Unique and priceless heritage An overview of our collections". Retrieved 10 November 2012. 
  3. ^ "La Belgique confrontée à la violence de son aventure coloniale au Congo". Le Monde. 26 February 2005. 
  4. ^ Hochschild, Adam (6 October 2005). "In the Heart of Darkness". The New York Review of Books 52 (15).  Archived 28 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Osborn, Andrew (13 July 2007). "Belgium exhumes its colonial demons: Historians vow to unearth truth about allegations of genocide in Congo". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°49′51.20″N 4°31′6.59″E / 50.8308889°N 4.5184972°E / 50.8308889; 4.5184972