For nearly half a millennia the Grand Place in Brussels has erupted in to a festival of pageantry in the first week of July to commemorate the ‘Joyous Return’ of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to Belgium.
This year Ommegang will take place over 3-5th July. Since it’s held in a public place you’ll be able to see some of it for free, but naturally if you want good seats in the stands then you will have to book ahead. You’d do well to bear that in mind when thinking about planning your accommodation too, it’s likely the city will fill up.
On the 4th July, a pavilion is set up in the square and you can attend shows for jousting and falconry. A display of swordsmanship is put on as knights battle it out in Grand Place, and there’s a medieval fair of crafts and various other acts from jesters to magicians.
This is one of the oldest traditions in Belgium, Ommegang is a general term used in central parts of Europe for medieval pageants, but the one in Brussels is by far the largest and most famous. Over 1400 performers will make up the procession, they form an impressive sight garbed in traditional attire showing off feats of horsemanship and the choreographed dances of days gone by.
The people of Brussels go all out for Ommegang. The procession will be backed with live music from professional tenors Sebastien Romignon Ercolini and Dominique Corbiau, as well as an expert light show from director Giles Daoust. This promises to be one skilfully produced procession and a great evening’s entertainment.
The procession runs from 9PM-11PM and finishes up with a novel battle-royal of stilt-walkers. Great entertainment after the pomp and precision of the Ommegang pageant, a number of stilt walkers get in to a brawl trying to trip each other off of their 5m stilts until just one man remains.
Ommegang does run quite late in to the night, but the early stages of the procession will be well worth taking your kids to see. They promise a bit of historical splendour to encourage a greater appreciation of the cultural heritage of Belgium. Adults will be able to enjoy themselves too; this is Belgium after all, so expect a healthy stock of ales for you to sample.
Belgium is just an overnight ferry-ride away, you’ll pull in to the port at Zeebrugge and from there it’s just a short journey to Brussels
Image Credit: David Spender