BRUSSELS – The iconic Grand Place of Brussels, a market square surrounded by guildhalls, has the aroma of churros and cider, the sound of flamenco and the singing of Valencia’s improvised lyrics: Spain is the guest country at the Folklorissimo festival this weekend in the Belgian capital, which on this occasion has become a show window of the art, traditions and gastronomy of some 10 of Spain’s autonomous communities.
In this 19th year of the event, Brussels combines the promotion of its own tradition with a tribute to a country with which it has historic ties across the centuries – between the 16th and 17th centuries Belgium was part of the so-called Spanish Low Countries, ruled by the crown of Spain – and with which today are together as members of the European Union.
“The more than 2 million Belgians who visited us in 2018 know Spain to be a welcoming country, which, like Folklorissimo, blends tradition with modernity and which, besides a common history, shares with Belgium a definite European character and an active multilateralism,” the Spanish ambassador to Belgium, Beatriz Larrotcha, said at the opening of the event at Brussels City Hall.
“We can’t deny that gastronomy and tourism is perhaps what Belgians look for these days, but I believe that gradually, with events like today’s, we show other aspects of Spain’s extremely rich history and culture,” the ambassador told EFE.
The programming of Folklorissimo has sought to combine these elements so that here at Grand Place, unusually sunny for this time of year in Brussels, will perform this Saturday and Sunday both dance and traditional music groups and contemporary artists revisiting national folklore.
More than 10 autonomous communities – Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla and Leon, Catalonia, Galicia, Extremadura, Basque Country and Valencia – are taking part in the festival, which bring to light another similarity between Spain and Belgium: their diversity of languages.
In charge of inaugurating the festival has been the most illustrious “citizen” of Brussels: Manneken Pis, the iconic statue of a little boy urinating, and who this morning was dressed in the garb of a Catalan shepherd boy.
On Saturday afternoon he will wear the suit of Francisco Goya, given to Brussels by the city of Zaragoza in honor of the illustrious Aragon native, while on Sunday he will first wear Asturian clothes, later to be changed for the “Manneken Pis in Balls” design by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, made with brightly colored balls.
All that forms part of the more than 20 costumes from Spain that Manneken Pis now has among the thousand outfits in his wardrobe.
Attention then shifted to the Grand Place, where the performance of a dance group from the Cantabrian town of Torrelavega, and the dance of the shepherd boys by a folkloric Catalan group from Sant Pere de Ribes, have had their picture taken flash after flash by surprised tourists and locals.
When it’s time to dine, potato tortillas, churros, goat cheese, mountain stew and cider are some of the gastronomic treats that visitors to the festival – more than 15,000 in previous years – can enjoy together with Belgian specialties like craft beer, abbey cheese, waffles and blood sausage.
Some autonomous communities like Cantabria hope the festival acts as a show window to boost tourism to those regions among the Belgians, who visit Spain more each year: in 2017 some 24.5 million made the trip, 7.5 percent more than the year before.