The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens is one of the top attractions in Melbourne. The site of the city's International Exhibition also spent its life as the nation's first Federal Parliament in 1901, before becoming the first building in Australia to achieve World Heritage listing as the world's only surviving Great Hall. Today, this majestic exhibition space for trade shows, fairs, cultural and community events is managed by Museum Victoria in conjunction with the City of Melbourne.
The Royal Exhibition Building was designed by architect Joseph Reed, who was also responsible for the Melbourne Town Hall and the State Library of Victoria. He created a palace-like building in a German Rundbogenstil and Italian Renaissance style with a cruciform plan and a massive dome inspired by Brunellescchi's Florence Cathedral dome. It would serve as the great hall of international exhibitions and a permanent centre for Melbourne's cultural activities in years to come.
Today, the restored interior with its expansive galleries and decorative paintwork continue to provide a magnificent setting for trade shows, fairs and cultural events. The soaring dome when lit at night is visible for miles above Melbourne's rooftops and visible and remains a spectacular sight.
The Carlton Gardens are an integral part of Joseph's design. It was a formal ornamental palace garden with north and south components. The east-west path and treed avenues of oak and elm are the key features of the North Garden. The South Garden is more picturesque with a French fountain, granite drinking fountain, "Grand Allee" and parterre garden beds. The original layout with its treed avenues remain unchanged till today.
International exhibitions were staged around the world in the mid-19th century as a phenomenon of the industrial revolution. They herald an era of modern trade and global economy, providing a platform for the international exchange of goods and services, ideas and cultures.
The Royal Exhibition Building is an enduring result of the International Exhibition movement. The scale and grandeur of the building including the giant entries, great hall, dome, axial planning, display areas and gardens represented the aspirations of industrialisation.
It hosted the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition and 1888 Centennial Exhibition which attracted 1.5 million and 2.2 million people respectively. The Melbourne Museum resides in the North Garden which were housing temporary exhibition pavilions during the two international exhibitions.
Guided tours of the building's magnificent heritage interiors are available from Museum Victoria. You can discover its history including the life and stories of people who contributed to this national icon. Each tour commences in the foyer at Melbourne Museum and run for 45-60 minutes. Tickets are at $10 Adults, $8 Concession and $7 Children/Museum Members. Contact the Melbourne Museum to check availability and bookings as tours are only available at 2pm and on days when the building is not used for events and exhibitions.