Aalst carnival

Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Country(ies): Belgium



Aalst carnival

When the three-day Aalst Carnaval begins each year on the Sunday before the Christian Lent, it is the culmination of a year of preparation by the inhabitants of this city in East Flanders in northern Belgium. Exuberant and satirical, the celebration features a Prince Carnaval, who symbolically becomes mayor and receives the key to the city in a ceremony marked by ridicule of the city’s actual politicians; a procession of effigies of giants and ’Bayard’, the horse from the Charlemagne legends; a broom dance in the central market to chase away the ghosts of winter; a parade of young men dressed as women with corsets, prams and broken umbrellas and a ritual burning of the carnival effigy – accompanied by shouts insisting that the feast will go on for another night. In addition to the carefully-prepared floats of official entrants, informal groups join the festivities to offer mocking interpretations of local and world events of the past year. The 600-year-old ritual, drawing up to 100,000 spectators, is a collective effort of all social classes and a symbol of the town’s identity in the region. Constantly recreated by new generations, the ancient carnival’s collective laughter and slightly subversive atmosphere celebrate the unity of Aalst.


Decision 5.COM 6.3

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as follows:

  • R.1: The Aalst carnival is a major social and festive event transmitted from generation to generation and celebrated by the entire community of Aalst that recognizes it as an essential part of its heritage;
  • R.2: Inscription of the Aalst carnival on the Representative List could contribute to promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue at national and international levels, enhancing visibility of the intangible cultural heritage and showing the rich human creativity it embraces;
  • R.3: Safeguarding measures including the creation of a safeguarding committee and the archiving of relevant documents are evidence of the will and commitment of authorities and the community to safeguard the carnival and create favourable conditions for its transmission and continuity;
  • R.4: The Aalst carnival communities, represented by various associations and members of the City Council, have been actively engaged in the preparation of the nomination that contains evidence of their free, prior and informed consent;
  • R.5: The Aalst carnival is included in the inventory of intangible cultural heritage of Flanders/Belgium that is maintained by the Arts and Heritage Agency of the Flemish Community.



© 2008 by Freddy Herssens / AVP

These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website