European Heritage Days 2013 @ Brussels. An orgy of cultural voyeurism.

”Sacre” was not the only highlight that mid-September weekend, in Brussels. Every year, countries across Europe celebrate the ”Doors Open Days” aka ”European Heritage Days”, a huge cultural programme with concerts, lectures and free access to monuments and sites normally inaccessible to the general public. A concept with a noble cause, that of knowledge and understanding of our common heritage, which began in Europe but has now spread to the Americas, Australia and other lands, on different dates. As expected, it attracts a lot of attention with the more popular sites being saturated by the curious & inquisitive, a veritable orgy of cultural voyeurism.

La Monnaie/De Munt is, quite justifiably, one of the more conspicuous destinations for the aspiring peeping toms; built in 1819 by French architect Louis Damesme, its interior was destroyed by fire in 1855 and rapidly restored within a year by Belgian architect Joseph Poelaert, whose working methods later earned him the nickname ”Skieven Architek” or ”Crooked Architect”. The auditorium is a lyre-shaped, lavish fusion of French and Italian styles. The royal box, a mini-palace dressed in red velvet and adorned with gilded stucco, crowned with the royal emblem, is on the same level as the first balcony closest to the stage, so when the royal family attended they would have a wonderful view of the room and none at all of the stage… a minor inconvenience at a time when going to the opera was mostly a social event. To the 19th century socialite, the performance and the need to see-and-be-seen were of equal importance.

Photos taken just before the ”Sacre” performance:

The previous morning, taking advantage of the ”Doors Open Days”, we took a guided tour behind the scenes, to the places where it all happens: the costume and scenery workshops. These used to be scattered around Brussels causing much hassle and distress when large parts of sceneries had to be transported for rehearsals, not to mention the costume fittings. But in 2000, they were all brought under the same roof and are now housed at an adjacent building, right behind the theatre. La Monnaie is producing the sets and most of the costumes in situ.

Their costume workshop  comes complete with hats, shoes and wigs departments. The organizers first approach performers they wish to book, as agendas of top names are usually full years beforehand. Once agreements are set in stone, they decide which performances will be produced based on the repertory of the artists. Production design and development follow.

Costumes are made-to-measure, fitted and stored in huge racks here:

A model theatre, showing off the expertise and artistic capabilities of the carpentry department:

This vast space is the exact same size of the main stage. Attached to it there is an unseen lift, the size of a large container truck. It was used mainly when the workshops were dispersed but some transport is always necessary. If an object doesn’t fit in the lift, it is rejected or cut down to size.

The painting room. Preparations for Jenůfa, by Leoš Janáček were in full swing already in September. The opera opens on 21 January 2014.

But that was not all… Our next stop was at the incredible La Fleur en Papier Doré/Het Goudblommeke in Papier! A white, unremarkable facade concealing a centuries old landmark. Once a sanctuary for the Daughters of Charity of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, it became a meeting place for the Brussels surrealists; Magritte, Mariën, Scutenaire, E.L.T. Messens are some of the gentlemen that shared thoughts, smokes and glasses of beer here. Later, its walls echoed many an avant-garde idea from members of the CoBrA movement. Today, drenched in nicotine, alcohol and history, they are still decorated with the same pictures, drawings and inscriptions, as then. La Fleur en Papier Doré is history, authentic Belgian Lambic, traditional Ballekes sauce tomate, poetry and book readings; an institution as unique as the city that hosts it.

For more images click http://www.brusselspictures.com/2009/01/29/la-fleur-en-papier-dore/.

No need to wait for a ”Doors Open Day”… Next time you spend a weekend in Brussels, just pop by La Monnaie; they hold guided tours every Saturday at 12 o’clock sharp (tickets cost 12 euros). La Fleur en Papier Doré is open every day (closed on Mondays, except on literary events). 

La Monnaie
Place de la Monnaie
1000 Brussels

La Fleur en Papier Doré
Rue des Alexiens 55
1000 Bruxelles

European Heritage Days, 14 September 2013

All photos by Konstantinos Implikian

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10 thoughts on “European Heritage Days 2013 @ Brussels. An orgy of cultural voyeurism.

  1. I KNOW they do! I had visions of slowly disappearing in the shadows and come out to play after everybody had gone… brought me back to childhood when a favourite game was hidding in my parents’ closet, dress up and live the fairytale!… xx

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