World and International Exhibition of Ghent 1913

Peace, Industry and Art

April 26, 1913 - November 3, 1913


The exhibition was solemnly inaugurated on 26 April 1913 by King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth and marked the beginning of an 'unprecedented century of progress'. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Belgium was considered a heavyweight in terms of industry, economy and culture, and Ghent, aware of this position of strength, hosted the 28th Expo in 1913.

This was already the 7th World Fair on Belgian territory. The spiritual father of the Ghent exhibition was the industrialist Gustave Carels, a successful manufacturer of steam engines, railway equipment and motors. When he died in 1911, the mayor of the city, Emile Braun, took over the reins and some local authorities and high ranking officials jumped on the bandwagon. This led to the most impressive industrial event that had ever taken place in Belgium.

Flowers and colonies were the subjects of the Great Exhibition of 1913: Ghent is the centre of floriculture and consequently invented a luxuriant profusion of flowers for the exhibition.

This dazzling celebration of social and technological developments drew millions of visitors in its wake. Not all nations were welcome at the Expo, Germany in particular was not even invited. At the time, the city of Ghent was predominantly French-speaking (meaning that France was in charge of the exhibition), which greatly displeased the nascent Flemish movement. While France played the role of big brother, Flemish initiatives were not given any funding or space. Germany was not officially invited.

The big German industrialists, such as Krupp, were therefore obliged to build their own pavilion. The organisers of the Ghent Expo had planned an infrastructure of gigantic dimensions: pavilions and exhibition halls with a total surface area of 21 hectares were spread over a 130-hectare site behind the new railway station. Ten of the 40 rooms in the Palais des Beaux-Arts were occupied by France alone. The 'rest' was shared between Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain.

The 9.5 million visitors made Expo 1913 an undeniable success, but it was also a financial debacle: it cost 9.3 million Belgian francs and ended with a deficit of 4.5 million.

As the visitors 'melted' into a Senegalese and a Filipino village and mingled with their inhabitants who had come especially for the occasion - 128 Senegalese and 60 Filipinos - some rumours at the time said that some Ghent ladies had even succumbed to the charm of the 'natives'.

Finally, the Ghent exhibition was the last world exhibition before the First World War and, above all, the last show with a human zoo.

Extract from an article by the Goethe-Institut Brüssel - http://www.goethe.de/ins/be/bru/frindex.htm