Binche Tourist Attractions
Situated between Charleroi and Mons not far from the French border, Binche takes great pride in being the only town in Belgium - and indeed in the Netherlands - to retain intact a substantial proportion of its medieval ramparts including 27 towers.
Now serving primarily as the market town for the surrounding region, little remains of Binche's once quite considerable textile industry apart from the manufacture of carnival costumes.Throughout its long history those who have held the fate of Binche in their hands have frequently been women - Joanna of Constantinople, Margaret of York, and especially Mary of Hungary under whom the town enjoyed its heyday. Mary, sister of the Emperor Charles V, played host to her brother, his son Philip and the flower of Europe's nobility at a great celebration held at her Renaissance palace in 1549. Only five years later Binche was occupied by troops of the French King Henry II and the palace was destroyed. Apart from the 19th C. when it had a thriving textile industry, the town has remained something of a backwater ever since.Each year the Carnival of Binche takes place attracting an increasing number of visitors. This event was named one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003.
Once a year Binche reclaims its place in the national limelight with the holding of its carnival, probably the most famous event of its kind in Belgium. Hundreds of "Gilles" (carnival jesters) in brightly colored costumes dance in the streets. This custom may in part have originated with the great fête organized by Mary of Hungary in 1549 for Charles V in celebration of Pizarro's conquest of Peru, when many of those attending were dressed as Incas. The carnival itself is older however, being mentioned in documents from as early as the 14th C., while the figure of the "Gille" goes back only to the 18th C.On each Sunday approaching Lent, the town of Binche is the site of a ceremony, dance, act or some preparation for the carnival. Fat Sunday is the day that the performers don their costumes, Fat Monday has dancing in the streets and fireworks; while Fat Tuesday is the last day - some say the best day!
The Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) in the Grand' Place is emblazoned with the coats of arms of Charles V and Mary of Hungary as well as those of the town itself. The belfry has a carillon of 27 bells.The tower is a UNESCO site.
To the right of the town hall a narrow alleyway joins a path running along the old town walls as far as Rue de Posty. This latter in turn leads up to the Rue Haute.
On the left-hand side of the Rue Haute stands the Chapelle Saint-André (1537). Inside the chapel the heads of the rafters are interestingly carved, two with scenes from a Dance of Death.
At the end of Rue Haute the large votive church of Saint-Ursmer (12th-15th C.) has a very fine Renaissance gallery directly behind the main portal. Noteworthy in the interior are a wooden pietà dated 1511 and a 15th C. polychrome Entombment.Mary of Hungary's palace once occupied the site behind the church, now a park. The bronze statue at the entrance is of a carnival "Gille".
International Museum of Carnival and Mask
Housed in a former Augustinian monastery immediately adjacent to the church, the Musée international du Carnaval et du Masque (International Museum of Carnival and Mask) is surely unrivaled anywhere. Its collection comprises some 15,000 costumes, masks and other carnival items, and the museum features carnival customs from all over the world.The first floor concentrates on costumes and masks from European countries, ranging from Russia to Italy and from the Balkans to the extreme north. The comprehensiveness of the collection can be judged from its inclusion of masks from the Swabian-Alemannic shrovetide carnival.The second floor focuses on the carnival traditions of Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, many of whose customs are quite different from those of Europe. The story of Binche's own carnival is told on film in a special display hall.
Address: Rue St Moustier 10, B-7130 Binche, Belgium
Opening hours: 9:30am-12:30pm, 1:30pm-6pm; Closed: Fri
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), All Saints' Day - Christian (Nov 1), Christmas Eve - Christian (Dec 24), New Year's Eve (Dec 31), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Day after Christmas, St Stephen's Day, Boxing Day (Dec 26), Ash Wednesday - Christian, Mardi Gras - Shrove Tuesday - Christian
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €6.00, Students €5.00, Group discounts €5.00, Child 12 & under FREE
Guides: Guided tour available as optional extra.
Facilities: Gift shop, Restaurant or food service
The historic Hydraulic lifts near La Louvière are an interesting attraction, as they elevate and lower boats and barges in a large tub of water.
Domaine de Mariemont was originally a hunting lodge built in the 1500s. It was demolished by fire and rebuilt on several occasions. On site today is a museum displaying an art collection.
Abbaye de Bonne-Espérance
The Abbaye de Bonne-Espérance, just 4km/2.5mi south of Binche near the village of Vellereille-les-Brayeux, was founded in the 12th C. by Premonstatensian friars. Apart from its 15th C. Gothic tower however, the present church is largely 18th C., the work of Laurent Dewez.Many visitors are drawn to the Abbaye by a reputedly miraculous statue of the smiling Madonna and Child (stone, 14th C.). The cloisters adjacent to the church also date principally from the 18th C., though one or two arches are survivals from the 13th C.