Meet the people of the past during Open Monument Day


One of the most popular region-wide events in Flanders, Open Monument Day features more than 450 corona-proof events and activities

Live and virtual

In a year when everything else seems to be cancelled, Open Monument Day in Flanders will fortunately go ahead on Sunday, albeit in a corona-proof form, adapted to present circumstances.

When the organisers realised that a “traditional” Open Monument Day wasn’t going to be possible this year, they designed an alternative version that accommodates the need for social distancing and avoids large gatherings. It was also important to plan activities that wouldn’t be cancelled at the last minute if Covid-19 restrictions were suddenly tightened.

The result is an event that in many ways resembles the Open Monument Day we’ve come to expect, with more than 450 activities taking place in nearly 200 communities across Flanders. However, this year’s event also includes a number of virtual visits that will take place online, some with live video feed.

Discover monuments by bike in Tervuren ©Visit Tervuren

There will also be self-guided tours conducted via downloadable audio guides, digital smartphone apps, or QR codes placed at key points of interest. “We organised a group purchase for digital products in order to make the switch from a traditional Open Monument Day to a more digital edition as easy and as approachable as possible for every local group,” says Charlotte Meys of Flemish heritage organisation Herita. “We arranged deals with 360° photographers and drone videographers to create digital content about their monuments.”

For instance, at Horst Castle in Holsbeek, visitors can take a self-guided tour on the grounds of the castle, which is currently closed for renovations, and learn more about the castle’s history and the renovation works via QR-codes on information placards. Families can opt for a fun scavenger hunt, also via QR-codes, and costumed volunteers will be on hand to answer questions.

When we couldn’t travel abroad, many of us rediscovered the beauty of our own country, and heritage is part of that beauty

- Charlotte Meys of Herita

The city of Leuven has opted for a fully “Closed Monument Day” with all its activities taking place out of doors. The programme includes over a dozen themed walking tours, two different cycling tours and even several jogging tours, all available either with a guide (by reservation) or as a self-guided activity. An additional guided canoe tour on the Dijle is already fully booked.

Antwerp has chosen to mount an online exhibition celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the 1920 Olympic Games, which the city hosted. An extensive website is packed with historical information and photos of 40 sites in the city that were associated with the Games.

Furthermore, the outdoor exhibition From Battlefield to Sports Field is visible while strolling along the streets around the site of the Olympic Stadium, built for the Games. It’s been completely rebuilt since then and is now affectionately known as ’t Kiel, after the neighbourhood.

Take a jaunt around Heers Castle and see a film about its long history ©Alexander Massoel/RLHV vzw

This year’s theme for European Heritage Days is Heritage and Education: Learning for Life, which inspires several of the activities on the Open Monument Day programme. In Hasselt, a self-guided walking tour called Learned on the Guffenslaan takes visitors through three historic school buildings in the city centre: Virga Jesse College, the Royal Atheneum and the former Provincial School for Midwives.

All in-person activities require a reservation so that organisers can manage the number of visitors at any given time. Local organisers were supplied with safety packages, including disinfecting hand gel, facemasks, floor stickers and signs with Covid-19 safety rules.

The annual heritage event, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, may be especially meaningful for the people of Flanders this year. “The coronavirus has taught us that monuments are more important than ever,” says Meys. “When people were not allowed to travel abroad, many of us rediscovered the beauty of our own country, and heritage is part of that beauty.”

Photo top: Students of the Heilig Hart school in Leuven, which opened in 1896
©Cultureel erfgoed annuntiaten Heverlee