Belgium’s carillon culture protected by Unesco

Summary

The bell towers of Belgium are now officially recognised and protected by Unesco as intangible cultural heritage

Mechelen home to famous school

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has added Belgium’s carillon culture to its register of intangible cultural heritage. Carillons are musical instruments made up of bells normally located in bell towers.

Bell towers began as alarm beacons in the flat Flemish landscape and later were built on to churches and cathedrals. They have been used for playing music since at least 1510.

Mechelen is home to a renowned carillon school, which attracts musicians from across the world for master classes and the chance to play live. Mechelen is unique in having four carillons, as well as a new mobile carillon (pictured) owned by the school.

Unesco includes the carillon culture under the heading of best safeguard practices, pointing out that the programme to protect the practice of carillon playing exists in 76 municipalities in the country, as well as 30 other countries worldwide. It also aims to ensure the restoration of historic instruments.  

Flemish culture minister Sven Gatz issued a joint statement with his French-speaking counterpart, Joëlle Milquet, pointing out that the admission of carillon to the list was the only example of best practices this year, “an important recognition for Belgium's carillon players and all those who work for the carillon culture in this country”.

“Carillon music has been giving our towns and cities a unique atmosphere for five centuries,” Gatz said. “I hope we may be able to enjoy our carillons for much longer still.”

Photo courtesy Toren & Beiaard

The bell towers of Belgium are now officially recognised and protected by Unesco as intangible cultural heritage.

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Carillon

This musical instrument was invented in Flanders in the 15th century. Carillon culture in Flanders peaked in the 17th century. Together with the Netherlands, Belgium boasts one of the largest carillon collections in the world.
History - Bell towers were originally emergency beacons in the flat Flemish landscape. They were first used to make music about 500 years ago.
School - Flanders is home to the world-renowned Royal Carillon School in Mechelen. Founded by then city carillonneur Jef Denyn in 1922, it became the first institute in the world dedicated to the study of carillon.
Heritage - Unesco has recognised carillon culture as part of Flanders’ immaterial cultural heritage.
1

carillon per 100,000 inhabitants in Flanders

4

carillons in city of Mechelen

1 510

first historical mention of carillon playing in Flanders