If World Heritage is something you’re interested in, Dendermonde is the place to go as the city has no less than 4 (two architectural sites and 2 folklore related) - not bad for a city of not even 45,000 people! We’ll get to those in a minute but first we should take a look at the Grote Markt (Grand Place). It may not be as large and impressive as the Markt from Brussels, Antwerp or Bruges but it is well worth visiting. An extra bonus being that this one is virtually traffic and tourist free!
Apart from the obligatory cafés and restaurants, you can also find the Meat House museum (Vleeshuismuseum) here. Contrary to what the name might suggest, it does not exhibit any steaks or sausages but instead informs you about the city’s history.
The most important building on the Grote Markt is of course City Hall. The building, built in 1350, was initially built to house the weavers guild. Prior to that they used to share the newly built Meat House (1294) with the butchers guild. Soon though, they complained about the lack of space and were eventually given permission to build their own guild house, the Lakenhalle.
In 1377 it was decided that a belfry should be added to the building, which brings us to Dendermonde’s first World Heritage site. Of course Dendermonde is not the only city with a recognized belfry as in 1999 a total of 29 Belgian belfries were added to the list.
In fact, the city’s second WH-site isn’t that unique either. No less than 13 of Flanders Beguinages were recognized by UNESCO in 1998, including the one in Dendermonde.
Like the Grand Place, the beguinage of Dendermonde is by no means as well kept and pretty as its most famous counterpart in Bruges, but efforts are being made to restore its full splendor. So this one may not (yet!) be as quaint and cute as the one in Bruges, but how often can you have that one to yourself on a Saturday afternoon?
So the Belfry and the Beguinage are the two architectural WH-sites but as I said in the beginning, the city also has two folklore related happenings that have been recognized by UNESCO. Again, the first one is not unique to Dendermonde as cities all over the world have giants. Dendermonde has three: Goliath, Mars and Indiaan. As all city giants worldwide, these ones are born, not built, and have a birth certificate. They are therefore official citizens of their city. Unlike other city giants though, Goliath, Mars and Indiaan get to travel around. City giants are usually not allowed to leave their city, but the Dendermonde Three are and can sometimes be seen outside the city. If you want to see them in their hometown, they have their parade once a year on the last Thursday of August.
Dendermonde’s true claim to fame though is Ros Beiaard (WH n°4). The story of Ros Beiaard is fairly complex, but basically it’s about four brothers and their giant horse and their battle against Charles the Great. Every ten(!) years the city holds a major parade to commemorate the legend. Last time was in 2010, so you’ll have to wait another eight years to go and see it, but even then it’s not certain it will happen. As the legend says, the main characters are four brothers and apparently already in 2010 it was a struggle to find a suitable family.
Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of either parades, but to give you a taste of them, I found this rather nice video on YouTube. It also features the giants Indiaan, Goliath en Mars.
If you feel like visiting Dendermonde, take some time to plan your trip. As it is not as touristy as other, bigger cities most museums etc are not open all year round. For Dendermonde’s website (only in Dutch), click here.