Royal Greenhouses of Laeken were built between 1874 and 1895, at a time in which the use of glass and metal as construction materials was fairly new therefore the Royal Greenhouses were considered unique monumental masterpieces. Located in Brussels, the Royal Greenhouses were mainly built during the reign of King Leopold II of Belgium. Having been impressed by his trip to England and its botanical gardens, he commissioned Alphonse Balat to build a complex of greenhouses that complement the castle of Laeken, the official residence of the Belgian royal family. The whole complex looks like a glass city with a jungle inside.
Being a controversial historical figure, King Leopold II wanted to illustrate his colonial power with these monumental greenhouses that contained various exotic plants from around the world. The Greenhouses of Laekan even inspired the new Belgian architecture of the time.
The total floor surface of the monumental heated complex is 2.5 hectares. It contains tropical, subtropical, and cold greenhouses. It is divided into 36 pavilions and organized into 3 main zones. The main greenhouses are Embarcadère Greenhouse, the Congo Greenhouse, and the Winter Garden and they are connected to each other through flowered corridors that span hundreds of meters. The complex has other greenhouses, galleries, glass passages, a large orangery, and small pavilions.
The Winter Garden was the first greenhouse and is still used today for receptions. It is topped by a glass dome that is approximately 25 meters high. It consists of 36 cast-iron arches and was designed for the subtropical high-stemmed plants. Most of these plants date back to the King Leopold’s time.
The Congo Greenhouse contained the plants coming from Congo. But they could not survive the climate of Belgium. Now, it contains subtropical plants. The Embarcadère Greenhouse was designed to accommodate the guests of the King. The plants in this greenhouse mainly come from Asia. The Orangery, another great feature of the complex which was built by the order of William I of the Netherlands, houses the largest collection of camellias in greenhouses in the world with 296 different varieties.