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"What follows is always organically related to what went before" (Marcus Aurelius – Roman emperor)

January 15, 2017


What better motto for an archaeological museum?  The Gallo-Roman Museum is an archaeological museum in Tongeren dedicated entirely to the pre-historical times and Roman age of this region in Flanders (Limburg). The museum was established in 1954 and moved into its modern building in 1994. In 2011, it was awarded the “European Museum of the Year” price. The permanent exhibition starts with the first human settlements in the region, the Neanderthals and the exhibition closes with the first signs of Christianity.

The museum also tells the story of the local hero Ambiorix. First this local chieftain, sporting his trademark and very macho moustache, accepted all the gifts Julius Caesar bestowed on him. But in the winter of 54/53 BC the Eburones, a tribe between the Meuse and Rhine, revolted against the Romans. Their leader Ambiorix, who seemed to be a rather cunning chap, was able to destroy the garrison - some 7,000 men when he tricked them out of their fortified camp into an ambush making the Romans believe a new Italian restaurant opened in the nearby village.


Never has so much been surrendered by so many to so few…


Having liberated his country, Ambiorix tried to liberate the Nervians, but this plan failed. Needless to say that Caesar was not amused and he swore to put down all the Belgic tribes. The Roman campaigns against the Belgae took a few years, but eventually the tribes were slaughtered or driven out and their fields burned. The Eburones disappeared from history after this genocidal event. According to the writer Florus, Ambiorix and his men succeeded in crossing the Rhine and disappeared without a trace. And as the world still had to wait for a few more years until the UN appeared, the genocide wasn’t recognised and the Romans never apologized. But then again they left us the Roman Roads, which were actually more comfortable and in much better condition than the highways we now have in Flanders.


Ambiorix’s resistance made Caesar pronounce his famous line: "Of the Gauls, the Belgae are the bravest." Which didn’t please the French one bit, and which is why they sent Asterix, Obelix, Dogmatix and Vitalstatistix to Belgium because they were angry with Caesar about his remark that the Belgians are the bravest of all the Gauls.


Back to the museum then, where there are also always very interesting temporary exhibitions. Right now this is the “Timeless Beauty” exhibition (From 17 December 2016 till 30 June 2017)

Want to know what Roman ladies used for make-up two thousand years ago? What kind of jewellery did they wear? What kind of items would a Roman beauty case contain? Practical implements and educational films provide an insight into how women in ancient Rome made themselves beautiful and pampered themselves (all the makeup in this world can never cover up an empty brain)


Bottom line: this is undoubtedly one of the top museums in Flanders and completely worth a visit.  The building's architecture, the collection, use of space, cleanliness, … it’s  all top notch. Just one word of advice for the non-Flemish speakers: bring your dictionary or a Dutch-speaking friend as most of the panels are in Dutch only. There is the occasional description in French or English but those really are the exception. The rule is “Dutch language only”...

As an expat and visitor of so many fantastic musea I must say that I really have very little appreciation for this policy. The text on the panels is essential for understanding the exposition, developing the story and the history of the region and its inhabitants. Not very foreign tourist friendly and makes me wonder how a "Dutch only" museum can be awarded the European Museum of the Year award? Now, don't get me wrong, you don't have to use all 24 EU languages. But maybe some English would have been nice...

Three EU commissioners walk into a bar. The punchline is utterly incomprehensible but available in 24 languages.

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