Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building - History and Facts | History Hit

Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

The Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building is a grand 19th century construction listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Peta Stamper

07 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building

The Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building was constructed during a great international exhibition movement following the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. Designed specifically to house the Melbourne International Exhibition, it was completed in 1880 and held the exhibition that year.

The architect of the Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building, Joseph Reed, was inspired by various styles from Byzantine to Italian Renaissance. The Royal Exhibition Building was the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Australia and today hosts a variety of exhibitions and events.

Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building history

The architect of the Royal Exhibition Building was the largest design by Reed and Barnes architectural company. Reed was inspired by the Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and the Italian Renaissance, combining these styles in brick, timber, steel and slate. The corner stone was laid by the Victorian governor George Bowen in February 1879 and completed in just 18 months.

Reed’s design was a French Beaux Arts cross shape, featuring a great hall crowned by an octagonal roof and dome. The 68 metre-high dome was modelled on Florence Cathedral and the main pavilions echoed influences from Normandy and Paris. Under the dome, the words ‘Victoria Welcomes All Nations’ are written, welcoming the public who came to see the Melbourne International Exhibition in October 1880 when the Royal Exhibition Building opened.

In 1888 the Royal Exhibition Building hosted the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, celebrating the century since European settlement in Australia. Similarly, the building became the focus of Australian national identity with the first opening of the Parliament of Australia in 1901, when Australia became part of the Commonwealth. The Victorian Parliament then moved into the building for 26 years.

Following another exhibition in 1902, the Royal Exhibition Building was also used in a number of different ways. During the 1919 Spanish Flu epidemic, the building functioned as an influenza hospital and by the 1940s, was known locally as ‘The White Elephant’, earmarked for replacement by office blocks. However, the building gained new life when hosting games for the 1956 Summer Olympics, hosting regular shows afterwards.

In 1979, the great hall was demolished controversially and replaced with a larger, more functional glass exhibition space called ‘Centennial Hall’. After the outcry following the hall’s demolition, Melbourne saw the Royal Exhibition Building in new light. Resultantly, the building and gardens were renovated and named World Heritage site in 2004.

Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building today

Today, you can visit the Royal Exhibition Building which regularly hosts events such as the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, gala dinners, fashion shows and community events. Visitors can go on a tour run by the Melbourne Museum, that highlights the stunning interior of the building that saw the growth of Australia.

Afterwards, you can explore the extensive manicured German gardens that feature a grand fountain before hopping over to the Melbourne Museum.

Getting to Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building

Located in the heart of Melbourne within the Carlton Gardens, the easiest way to reach the Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building is via public transport. Trams 86, 96, 30 and 35 stop just outside the gardens, as do bus lines 250, 251 and 402 – all just minutes from the Royal Exhibition Building.

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