What was once a grand place to do your shopping is now a historical site, home to antique musical instruments and a place you must visit at least once in the 1000 Places to See Before You Die Page-A-Day® Calendar
Beside the Place Royale and across from the Magritte Museum, the Old England Department Store stands as a testament to Art Nouveau architecture. Belgian architect Paul Saintenoy built the iconic structure from girded steel and glass. While Art Nouveau serves as the primary stylistic influence, Saintenoy also incorporated elements of 18th century neo-classicism.
Art Nouveau translates to “new art,” and the movement reigned supreme in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tributes to the natural environment and curved, flowing lines filled the buildings, artwork and furniture made in this style.
On the outside of the Old England Department Store, the Art Nouveau influence makes its mark in enormous arched windows and curvaceous spires. The building almost has a cathedral-esque quality to it with its grandeur and ample arches. Within, wrought-iron accents, curving lines and stained glass perpetuate the Art Nouveau theme.
However, beholding this majestic structure is only one reason to pay it a visit. Another part of history is captured at this site, with over 8,000 historic instruments displayed at the Musical Instrument Museum inside. The museum, which is visited by more than 125,000 individuals annually, is owned by the country of Belgium and belongs to the Royal Museums of Art and History group.
The collection actually predates the building, with the first hundred instruments furnished by Belgian King Leopold II in 1877. The rest of the collection comes from multiple sources, and the museum also owns a restoration workshop to repair and refurbish the instruments they own and receive.
The instruments capture a history of 18th-19th century Belgium and Europe through music. A self-guided audio tour takes visitors through the mechanical instruments in the basement, the traditional instruments on the ground floor, the modern orchestral instruments on the first floor and keyboard and string instruments on the second floor.
Be sure to look for the rare and unique instruments, such as a set of huge Chinese stone chimes and the only surviving luthéal, a version of a piano that creates sounds similar to a cimbalon used by composer Maurice Ravel. Before you go, prep with the informative and exciting CD, A History of Music in Western Civilization—you'll impress your fellow travelers with your knowledge of all the instruments you see!
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