Friday, July 2, 2010

Ommegang 2010

Brussels' Grand Place was filled with spectators last night, including the Royal Family and their guests, for the annual Ommegang, or "walk around" in Dutch. It has been a major annual event in the city since 1549. The festival huge parade focuses on local folklore and heritage. Matt and I didn't know quite what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised and rather impressed by such a grand show.

Below, the grand Maison du Roi (King's House) stands opposite the Town Hall. It once belonged to the Duke of Brabant, who was later crowned King of Spain, thus the title. After the French Revolution, the common people proclaimed it the "People's Palace," and it was later rebuilt in the neo-Gothic style at the end of the 19th Century. It now houses the Le MuseƩ Communal, the Brussels City Museum.
The focus of this elaborate festival that each year brings the mideval moments to life in the Grand' Place is the empire of Charles V. Dazzling and colorful, the Ommegang's procession is organized to commemorate Charles's "Joyous Entry" into Brussels on June 2, 1549 when he, his son Don Philip, infant king of Spain and Duke of Brabant, and his sisters, Eleanor of Austria, Queen of France, and Mary of Hungary all watched as representatives from the crafts and trades of the city processed around the Grande Place.
The procession of royalty began with flag and banners twilled about, sometimes tossed and waving high among the backdrop of intricate and elaborate architecture. 



Trumpets blared and the festivities began. Once the procession of the court ended, the Royal guests took their places, a horse parade got underway. Then came the representatives of the crafts and the Crossbow men who surrounded their patron Notre Dame du Sablon, the statue of the Virgin that had been escorted from the Sablon Church. Finally, everyone settled down to enjoy the games and entertainment
The City of Brussels allows only participants wearing 16th century costumes to take part in the performance of the Ommegang, which takes place in the first week of July. There are no fewer than 1,200 of them, representing members of the imperial family and court, the aristocracy, magistrates, guilds men, soldiers and militia. Some, in red-black-and-yellow uniforms, parade on giant stilts while others wave colorful flags and display their horsemanship.
The Ommegang festival dates from 1359 when the procession was initially religious in nature. Today, it retains a folkloric character, with the performance being an expression of riches and glamour, and one in which the people of Brussels take great pride.
I'd have given most anything to be at street level for photos of the celebration. Not only because the audience in front of me was busy with a camera as well, but the colors were spectacular. There was never a moment  lacking something new to see. We decided that the kids would really enjoy the festival, and perhaps next year, we'll take the girls.

If you happen to be in Brussels the first week of July, Ommegang is an event worth seeing

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