The annual Brussels Ommegang is one of the most spectacular processions in Europe.
Held on two nights in June, the parade features more than 1,400 people dressed in rich historical costumes. There are archers, crossbowmen, flag-wavers, stilt walkers, giants, dancers, children and horses. It ends on Grand Place just after the sun goes with a fireworks display that lights up the night sky.
People describe it as a mediaeval procession, but like many things in Belgium it’s more complicated than it looks. The current version of the Ommegang was first enacted in 1930 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Belgian revolution. The concept was carefully choreographed by a local historian after he sifted through the city archives looking for an ancient procession that might be revived.
He eventually came across an exceptionally lavish version of the mediaeval Ommegang procession held in the summer of 1549 to celebrate the visit of Charles V and his son Philip. This was exactly what the city needed to draw the crowds.
The modern Ommegang follows roughly the same route as the 1549 procession, from the church of Notre-Dame du Sablon down through the narrow cobbled lanes to Grand Place. The participants include aristocratic descendants of the nobles who took part in the original 1549 procession. You can book a seat on Grand Place to watch the final ceremony, or just join the crowds lining the route. Held on 28 and 30 June 2023.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.