Train World, SNCB’s railway museum, hosts the temporary exhibition Royals & Trains until 22 January 2023. The opportunity to discover the great luxury of rail travel of crowned heads in Belgium and elsewhere.
Until January 22, 2023, Train World, the SNCB Museum, will host the temporary exhibition Royals & Trains in Train World, SNCB’s Railway Museum. This exhibition explores the connection that unites the Belgian royal family to the railway world. On May 9, King Philippe inaugurated this Royals & Trains exhibition. A museum that the King of Belgium has known well since he himself inaugurated it in 2015. By celebrating the connection that unites him to the railway adventure, the sovereign is part of a long tradition for the Belgian royal family.
King Leopold became directly involved in the railway adventure by supporting the opening of the first passenger railway line on the European continent, connecting Brussels with Mechelen. The king inaugurated it in 1835. His successor, Leopold II, continued this railway passion. It supports George Nagelmaker’s crazy dream, the creator of Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-lits and Orient-Express. The railway company’s famous logo is also a tribute to the king.
But if the royal house is interested in the development of the train as a lever for the industrial revolution, it also uses the rails for its own needs. And crowned heads can not travel decently like everyone else! From the advent of the railway, the royal families are interested in this new means of transport and quickly order from the manufacturers of the cars at the height of the greats of this world.
The exhibition is an opportunity to discover exclusive photos, period objects and documents from the collections of the SNCB and the Royal Palace, which allow you to relive the splendor of these royal journeys. These materials were used for travel by Belgian kings in their country and in the rest of Europe. They were also made available to foreign heads of state during their official visit to Belgium. This was especially the case with the King of Spain in 1883, William III of Holland in 1884, the Shah of Persia in 1900 and 1902. During the second half of the 19th century, the number of state visits organized by train increased. Most of the royal trains have Brussels-North as their final destination, where the Sovereign welcomes its guests in a lounge. Queen Elizabeth II traveled through Belgium in 1966, the last crowned head to enjoy the extreme comfort of these exceptional cars.
The Belgian railways retain six royal carriages in their collections. Three of these cars, built in the early 20th century, were used by Kings Leopold II and Albert I. The other three cars, dating from the late 1930s, circulated under King Leopold III and Baudouin I Two cars are part of the permanent exhibition at Train World. The other three cars have been restored specifically for this Royals & Trains exhibit. Of the five royal carriages presented together at Train World for the first time, the oldest dates from 1901. The Royal Sedan offers comfort worthy of the greatness of this world. This lounge and sleeping car consists of a private lounge, a bedroom with a king bathroom, four sleeping cabins, a service room and another room for heating, and was built by Compagnie Générale de Construction located in Saint-Denis, a subsidiary of Compagnie Internationale des Wagons- lits. The King’s compartments are directly accessible from the central salon. Art Nouveau decorations and ornaments adorn the corridors and bedrooms, while the living room plays the card with Louis XVI-style luxury.
The restaurant / conference carriage from 1905 consists of a large dining and conference room, a service room, a washbasin area and a toilet. Once again, luxury is ubiquitous. The Louis XVI-style interior is decorated with furniture and panels in polished mahogany, adorned with decorative motifs in gilded bronze and mother of pearl. The comfortable leather seats, like the four small cupboards, carry a medallion in which the monogram “A”, marked by King Albert I. The ceiling is covered by a painting on canvas celebrating the joys of the table. Built in Belgium, the 1912 lounge / diner car consists of a lounge and a small dining room. The interior of the living room is in art deco style, while in the dining room it is Louis XV-inspired. The dining room furniture is in solid oak. The living room furniture is decorated with marquetry made of several types of wood, ivory and mother of pearl. The ceilings in the two rooms were decorated with paintings on canvas.
The car from 1939 offers its guests a large and a small dining room, a kitchen with pantry, three rooms equipped with a bunk bed and a bathroom. The large dining room, which fills the entire width of the car, can accommodate twelve guests. It is decorated on both sides with tropical wood paneling. The two tables in the large dining room are inlaid with Caucasian walnut and the armchairs are upholstered in beige pigskin. In the small dining room, which can accommodate four people, two niches are clad in leather. The dining car from 1939 was regularly occupied by the sovereign. Wide double doors, preceded by a height-adjustable pull-out staircase, provide access to the main entrance. On one side, the hall opens onto the large living room, furnished with armchairs. Next to the large salon, there are three rooms equipped with a bunk bed and a bathroom. The other side of the hall leads to the king’s private cabinet. The private closet is decorated with walnut panels and linen fabrics. To complete this royal decor, a tapestry representing a hunting scene signed by Victor Stuyvaert occupies the back panel of the great living room.
To preserve these historic cars, visitors will only be able to admire them from the outside. But alongside the exhibition, a richly illustrated book by Éditions Snoeck and Train World has been published. Produced by Michelangelo Van Meerten, economic historian and specialist in the history of the Belgian railways, and Stéphane Disière, specialist in railway history SNCB, Train World Heritage, the book is the ideal companion to discover this royal exhibition and the details of the five cars on display. The organizers also offer a wealth of activities and conferences around the theme of royal trains or attached to power.
Royals & Trains exhibition
Train World until January 22, 2023
Princess Elisabeth Square, 5