The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens in Melbourne are yet another example of my stumbling onto World Heritage Sites completely unawares. Don’t let this poor habit of mine diminish their worth, though. The actual building is very beautiful and the surrounding gardens are a welcome spot for a break after sightseeing in Melbourne.
Located just north of the city centre, the exhibition building was built in just 18 months in 1879/80, in time to host the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880. Designed by architect Joseph Reed and built by David Mitchell, it is said to be based on various European buildings, such as the cathedral in Florence. The Exhibition Building went on to house several other exhibitions and major events, chief among them the centenary celebrations of 1888 and the opening of the first Parliament of Australia in 1901; but also several events during the 1956 Summer Olympics (I kid you not). The royal title, however, was not bestowed until 1984. Unfortunately, vast parts of the building were either demolished or lost to fire.
Nowadays, the remaining part of the building – the Great Hall – is still used for commercial exhibitions and there was one in full swing when I visited. Sadly, I therefore do not have any decent photographies of the amazing interior. The exterior is also quite stunning, though, and reminds me of a cathedral much more than a building I’d envisage for commercial shows. This outlook is clearly different to that of the organisers of the famous international exhibitions, and UNESCO states the following as a criterion for the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne being a World Heritage Site:
“The Royal Exhibition Building and the surrounding Carlton Gardens, as the main extant survivors of a Palace of Industry and its setting, together reflect the global influence of the international exhibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement showcased technological innovation and change, which helped promote a rapid increase in industrialisation and international trade through the exchange of knowledge and ideas.” (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1131)
I am quite grateful for the people in charge to have built something so beautiful, and for the building to have survived. If you have a chance, you should visit the Royal Exhibition Building at a time when there isn’t a major event on, as that would make it much easier to visit and enjoy the inside.
In case you would like to enjoy another beautiful relic of times gone by, you should travel on the lovely retro tram No. 35 – it has two stops on the edge of Carlton Gardens and circles the city centre, making sightseeing a little easier on your feet. If that doesn’t convince you, yet, it is also free of charge.