Famous for its riotous "Lumeçon" festival, Mons is much more than dragon-slaying and clanging battle armor. As a 2015 European Capital of Culture, the Belgian city is about to turn on its bountiful charm and magic.
Culture is a fluid thing - something the organizers of Mons 2015 realized when the iconic sculpture by Arne Quinze, called "The Passenger" (pictured above), partially collapsed on Christmas Eve. Installed at a cost of around 400,000 euros ($460,000) as a key attraction for the city's status as a 2015 European Culture Capital, the 85-by-16-meter (279-by-52-foot) structure has now been dismantled, reported dpa. But that won't stop the celebrations.
With over 300 events already scheduled and more to come, Mons will hardly be short of events. Along with its Capital of Culture partner Pilsen in the Czech Republic, the Belgian city is well set for the big stage.
Festivities will kick off with a huge opening street party on January 24 before artists, installations and exhibitions transform the city into Europe's cultural hotspot. Highlights include 11 world premiere theater shows and major exhibitions dedicated to the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Verlaine.
Both artists, of course, had deep connections to Mons. It was nearby, in the Walloon coal mining region of the Borinage, that Van Gogh abandoned his profession as a preacher and instead turned his hand to art.
This period of his life will be explored in the exhibition "Van Gogh in the Borinage: The birth of an artists," as well as a number of other public events including the installation of outdoor maze of 8,000 sunflowers - the Dutch painter's trademark theme.
The "Verlaine, Cell 252: Poetic Turbulences" exhibition will chart the writer's fascinating life and relationship with Belgium - both as a utopian refuge for him and his poet lover Rimbaud and a place of melancholy, relating to his eventual imprisonment in Mons. As well as Rimbaud, the exhibition will cover the author's friendships with the likes of Oscar Wilde and Victor Hugo.
Mons will showcase its unique buildings, including this Unesco listed former coal mine, now the Industrial Museum and Art Museum for Design and Modernism Art
Soundtrack to a celebration
Music will of course play a pivotal part of the programming, but with a special focus on Mons' favorite musical son, composer Rolandus Lassus (Orlande de Lassus). The 16th-century musician left Mons to become a star of the European music world, and will now finally return home with a series of concerts and celebrations dedicated to him - amongst them the performance of a 700-strong choir and a Lassus "jam session" hosted by the Royal Chamber Orchestra of Wallonia, as part of the opening night spectacular under the iconic mural of Bonom.
With a history stretching back to the Neolithic period, Mons draws from a deep well of cultural tradition. But none are as famous as the city's annual "Lumeçon" festival, which has reenacted Saint George's fateful confrontation with a dragon since the 14th century. The event is officially designated a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" and takes place each Trinity Sunday. As part of Mons 2015, Saint George will be celebrated with the exhibition, "The Man, the Dragon and the Death."
The future is written
But, of course, Mons 2015 will not only be about its storied past, but celebrating its enlightened future as a "creative valley," according to Mons Commissioner for Mons Yves Vasseur. "Mons is now on the map of the world," he said in a press statement, adding the city may well be entering a cultural golden age: "Mons is a new and open city."
This "newness" will very much be on display, with five new museums opening their doors, plus a brand new music venue, Arsonic, opening in the spring. "Mons is changing," Mayor Elio di Rupo told the press. "Mons is progressing. Mons is building its better future."
A major theme of the year's programming will be the relationship between culture and technology - a nod to the city's growth as a technological hub and home to Google's European Data Center and hundreds of other tech companies, including Microsoft.
Highlights will include a live-feed "Wall of Streets" connecting to 10 different European cities. The epic year of festivities will also traverse fashion and design, and include a huge number of literary and other public events.