Belgica Exploration Exhibit Opening in Antwerp

To Antarctica: The polar pioneers of the Belgica opens at MAS Museum in Antwerp Friday, June 21st

Some 125 years ago, the research ship Belgica left Antwerp for the last blind spot on the world map: Antarctica. The crew got stuck in the ice, and had to survive for a year in the freezing cold. But they continued pioneering scientific research and made history. Diaries of the crew, stunning photographs and authentic parts of the ship bring this incredible adventure back to life. The exhibition tells us how the men managed to survive, who followed in their footsteps, and what Antarctica is like today.

Antarctica Belgica exploration Courtesy the MAS Museum in Antwerp
Courtesy the MAS Museum in Antwerp


​No one ever did it for them. The young, international crew of the Belgica sailed so far to Antarctica that they got stuck in the ice. They had to survive there in the icy cold for a year. They fell ill due to poor nutrition and had an extra hard time mentally during the long polar nights without daylight. Determined, they continued pioneering scientific research: they mapped new areas with Belgian-sounding names and collected unknown fauna and flora.

​To free themselves, the expedition members did the impossible: with great perseverance, they sawed a way through the ice to free their ship. Just before a second polar winter began, the Belgica set sail back to Belgium.

​Authentic pieces

The exhibition at MAS brings this adventurous voyage back to life after 125 years, in the city where it began at the time. Visitors will get to know the crew personally through beautiful photos, drawings and diaries. Moreover, the MAS also has some authentic pieces in its collection, such as the ship’s wheel and crow’s nest, sledges and clothing, the ice saws used to free the ship from the ice. The organ, on which Belgium’s national anthem, The Brabanconne, plays time and again during the dark days on board, has also been preserved.


Antarctica today

Antarctica remains a breathtaking place. This is palpable in the last room of the expo, where impressive contemporary video images make visitors pause to think about the Antarctic today. ​In this current section of the expo, which was created in collaboration with the International Polar Foundation, they will learn all about the important role Antarctica plays in the dynamics of current climate change and about the wide range of natural phenomena scientists are studying there today. This is done from the Princess Elisabeth Base, the Belgian research station in Antarctica, among other places. ​ ​

Art in the Expo


Throughout the expo, Dutch artist Esther Kokmeijer invites visitors to reflect on the area. In her work Terra Nullius, she calls attention to Antarctica’s geopolitical protected status. As a statement to keep Antarctica pristine, she used correction tape to make all details invisible on almost 50 maps of the continent. With this installation, she talks about the relationship of man and politics towards this piece of pristine nature.

Practical information:

To Antarctica: The polar pioneers of the Belgica
From 21 June to 3 November 2024 on the 3rd floor of the MAS Museum.
Tickets, more information and activities can be found on the MAS website.
Images from the expo can be found in the MAS media room.

Press contact: Nadia de Vree

MAS | Museum aan de Stroom
Hanzestedenplaats 1, 2000 Antwerpen
T + 32 3 338 44 00 | |

Questions? Send the MAS an email.

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