Celebrating History on the Streets of Brussels

Rocco Forte Hotels

If you were to visit Brussels on the evening of the 28th or 30th June 2023, you would be forgiven for thinking you were hallucinating. Streets filled with flag throwers, musicians, dancers, horse-drawn carriages, fire-eaters. A procession of townspeople following their emperor. Do not fear. You haven’t hit your head and been transported back to the 16th century. This is the Ommegang.

A Belgian Celebration

Ommegang is an annual festival celebrated in Brussels, which commemorates the historical visit of Emperor Charles V to the city in 1549. The event's name, "Ommegang," comes from the Dutch words "omme" (around) and "gang" (walk), referring to the circular procession that forms the core of the festivities.

The modern Ommegang is a large-scale historical re-enactment that includes a procession of over a thousand participants dressed in period costumes, representing the diverse characters that would have accompanied Charles V on his tour of Brussels. The procession culminates in a ceremony at the Grand Place, moments from Hotel Amigo.

 

Power and Empire

Charles V was one of the most powerful European rulers of his time. In fact, he was one of the most powerful men of all time. Born in Ghent, Belgium, in 1500, he ruled over a vast empire that included the Spanish colonies in the Americas, parts of Italy, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire.

So the arrival of Charles to Brussels in 1549, alongside his son, the future King Philip II of Spain, was a very big deal. Such a big deal that in 1930 the citizens decided to stage a revival to mark the centenary of an independent Belgium.

Ready to do battle

Since then the festival has grown in scale and spectacle. One of the highlights is a mediaeval tournament; this year it will be a crossbow competition at the Church of the Sablon. At 7.20pm, the two crossbow guilds assemble at the church and then compete for glory in the tournament. The contest over, the procession begins.

The carriage carrying Charles V (also called Charles Quint or Keizer Karel) travels through all of central Brussels, accompanied by crossbowmen, musketeers, archers, and swordsmen.

 

Celebrating on the streets

Beyond the procession itself, there are also stalls selling artisan produce from across Europe, including a special Ommegang ale made by the Haacht Brewery. Visitors can also enjoy puppet theatre performances and spectacular horse-riding displays. 

Given the Ommegang festival is a celebration of Brussels’ rich heritage (or, for all the Hapsburg fans, the glorious reign of Keizer Karel), why not pair it with the Celebration Package at Hotel Amigo? 

Arrive to a glass of Champagne and some Belgian chocolates, then enjoy the Ommegang festivities in the evening. Return to a cosy bed at Hotel Amigo, and wake up to a rousing continental breakfast. We just can’t guarantee your favourite crossbow guild will win.


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