Built in 1904, the Belle Isle in Detroit is now the oldest continually operating aquarium in America.
The Belle Isle Aquarium, one of the most iconic and stunning places in Detroit, was built by two architects. Albert Kahn and George D. Mason opened the aquarium on 18 August 1904. Regarded as the oldest aquarium in the country, it is said that on its opening day, some 5,000 visitors queued up to see 44 fish tanks and beautiful green-tiled walls. Over the years, the attraction only increased. Perhaps, what is most striking about the place is its architecture. The building has a massive central tank, grand pillars, and an ornate facade.
Just above the main entrance, there is a carving of Neptune, the Roman god of the seas, and the city’s seal and motto: Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus (“We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes”). The aquarium is situated right next to the sparkling glass domes that make up the conservatory. The front has many intricate carvings but as you go inside, you will be greeted with a burst of color. The ceiling is covered with green tile that seems to emit some kind of glow and gives a perfect eerie vibe to the situation. At the time when it was opened, The Belle Isle Aquarium was the third-largest Aquarium in the country. Over the next few decades, this gorgeous structure would go on to become the oldest continually operating aquarium in America.
The aquarium is said to have one of the largest collection of air-breathing fish in the world and showcases species from lakes and rivers all over the globe. One of the most famed exhibits in the aquarium is the African Lung Fish, which can survive up to four years outside of the water by slowing its heart rate down to nearly zero and by burying itself into the wet mud. The aquarium also has piranhas, tiny African frogs, sea horses, electric eels, a snapping turtle and many more exotic species.
In 2005, the aquarium was closed to the public but was reopened in 2012 and is currently managed by the Belle Isle Conservancy. Parking and admission are free but a recreation passport is required to enter the island in a car and they can be bought from the entrance. Alternatively, the pass can be added when you renew your license plate. It has been told by locals that the basement is a speakeasy that was in business during the Prohibition Era. The aquarium also comes with an underground club which lets people party as much as they want to.
But, it is important to note that the speakeasy is only open to the public during certain special events so make sure to look out for an opportunity. A beautiful koi pond is there just outside the aquarium, which is filled annually. The greenhouse is a dome-shaped structure and it has plants from five different climatic zones. Since its reopening, more than 5,00,00 visitors have paid a visit to the aquarium. The summer, being the most active time for the visit sees 6,000 people on any given weekend.