Thousands of people flocked to the Grand-Place in Brussels on Wednesday night to witness the first Ommegang pageant for this year. French actor and producer Frédéric Diefenthal played the role of French-speaking herald and narrator of the story, while the patron of the event was singer Anny Cordy.
The festivities continue until Sunday in the Royal Park, including a second Ommegang on Friday.
Wednesday night’s parade, which was over a distance of 2 km and involved 700 characters, started at 8.40 p.m. from the Royal Park, passed through the Sablon area in the historic upper town of Brussels and continued on to the Grand-Place. The 2,000 seats in the square were filled and a similar number of persons saw the spectacle while standing behind the security barriers.
The spectacle, which lasted two hours, included 47 folklore groups and 1,400 participants. It began with the entry of caricaturist Pierre Kroll, whose cartoons were broadcast live on a giant screen as he sketched them. He was followed by Anny Cordy, who on the occasion of her 90th birthday, recalled that she had made her first steps and artistic debut in Brussels. Singer Jo Lemaire did the Dutch version and comedian Bert Kruismans the English one.
Flag wavers marked the start of the spectacle, followed by the parade of horse riders, stilt walkers and eight giants, including the famous dragon slain by King George, a full 4.25 metres in length. Doves were released, and a festival of lights lit up the front of the buildings around the square in multiple colours to the rhythm of music. A few large drops of rain fell towards the end of the night, sending the remaining spectators running for cover. The festival ended just after 11 p.m. with fireworks.
The Brussels Park will host the traditional jousting until Saturday. In addition to knights fighting on horseback, there will be fencing exhibitions, shooting competitions and crossbow tourneys. A big Renaissance market will be held from midday to 9 p.m. in the Brussels Park and behind the Stock Exchange. Finally, a terrace will be installed in the park where the public will be able to continue the festivities until 2.00 a.m.
The Ommegang was originally a medieval religious festival that declined in the late 18th century, but was revived in the form of a historical procession from 1930.