The Gallo-Roman Museum is one of the top European archaeological museums today. While its foundations were laid more than 150 years ago, the museum has expanded rapidly since the 1990s.
In the middle of the nineteenth century the Royal Tongeren Historical and Archaeological Society began collecting archaeological finds. With the support of the provincial authorities, the Society also carried out excavation work. The objects were first put on public display in various locations in the city in 1854. Up until the first half of the twentieth century the Society regularly acquired new collections, often donated by private individuals who also carried out excavation work. In 1937 the collection moved to the newly established Provincial Museum in the Beguinage in Hasselt.
1954 saw the launch of the first real museum initiative. Important archaeological finds from the region were collected and shown in the Provincial Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren. The collection continued to grow, not least thanks to excavations carried out by what was then the National Department for Excavations, and to the museum’s own field organization and the many gifts. The museum displayed the objects in the traditional manner; it also organized the occasional temporary exhibition. The number of visitors increased to 20,000 a year. The museum became a regular destination for many schools.
Ambition of the province of Limburg
In the early 1990s, the province of Limburg decided to invest in a new museum building. The new museum opened in 1994. The contemporary presentation of the collection, the well-founded educational programme and the accessible exhibition policy put the museum on the map. The collection grew. The museum acquired a cache of bronze axe heads (Heppeneert), a Celtic gold cache with a neck ring (Beringen) and a hoard of coins with Eburone staters (Heers) and others.
European Museum of the Year
The Gallo-Roman Museum continued to attract more visitors, reaching more than 100,000 a year, which the building could no longer accommodate. At the beginning of the new millennium, the province of Limburg gave the green light for a new expansion. This came in 2009. It was co-financed by the Flemish Community and Europe.
A contemporary building was built that would be attractively integrated into the city. The new permanent exhibition was widely acclaimed. In 2011, the Gallo-Roman Museum was honoured with the title of European Museum of the Year.
City of Tongeren at the helm
A series of large-scale exhibitions ensued. In 2012, 174,071 visitors attended the museum, a new record. The museum's cultural tourism importance grew. Efforts were also intensified in the area of scientific research. In 2018, the Gallo-Roman Museum came under the management of the city of Tongeren, which has focused on further professionalisation.