Binche is famous worldwide for its carnival, a four-day affair culminating in the riotous Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) parade. On that day, the quiet town is literally invaded by tens of thousands of avid onlookers, coming from further away ever since the event became the first Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity listed by the UNESCO in Northwest Europe.
Binche's golden age started in 1544, when Emperor Charles V of Habsburg (1500-1558) gave it to his sister, Mary of Hungary, who erected a palace there. Binche's glory came to an abrupt end a few years later, when the king of France, Henry II, destroyed the city and its palace. Much later, the industrial revolution gave the town a dreary look, only compensated by a grandiose town square.
Binche's close connection with Emperor Charles V is reflected in the town's motto, Plus Oultre ("further" in Old French), the very same motto as the Renaissance monarch.
Carnival of Binche
Out of several groups of costumes (Pierrots, Arlequins, Paysans...), all the eyes are on the celebrated Gilles de Binche, who are dressed in the national colours of Belgium, wearing wooden clogs and white ostrich feathers, happily throwing oranges to the cheering crowd.
It is said that the costumes of Binche's carnival is a 19th-century revival of a feast held in Charles' honour in 1549, in which courtiers wore disguises were inspired from recently subdued Inca empire.
Preparations start as early as 4:00 am on the Mardi Gras. The festivities last all day and finish late in the evening in a light parade. The crowd then dances around bonfires.
This little town of 35,000 inhabitants goes back to sleep the rest of the year. If you happen to be around, check out the massive medieval city wall dotted with 27 towers. They are the best preserved ramparts in the Benelux. Binch also has a reasonably nice town square, endowed with a Renaissance town hall and belfry.
If you can't make it for the carnival, you can still console yourself with Binche's interesting International Carnival & Mask Museum.
The adjacent village of Waurdez, 2 km west from the town square, has a Gallo-Roman Museum.
How to get there
Binche sits near the junction of the N90 (Charleroi-Mons) and N55 (coming from the E19-E42 motorway) roads. From Brussels or Mons, take the E19 until exit 21 for Binche, then follow the N55 on about 10km. From Namur or Liege, take the E42 towards Mons, then exit 21 as above, or exit 19 for La Louvière and follow the N90 through the city.
There are direct trains hourly from Brussels (1h from Brussels-South Station). Trains from Mons (40min) or Namur (1h10min) require a change at La Louvière Sud.
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