Kattenstoet - cat festival

Ieper (in French Ypres) is a town in the west of Belgium. It is located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. Most people associate this town with the events in World War One.

Ieper was a site of two big battles. In the first one from the 31st October to 22nd November, 1914 the Allies beat Germans and got the control over Ieper. The second battle started on the 22nd April and lasted until the 25th May, 1915. In this battle Germans used chlorine gas for the first time on the Western Front. The second gas was used in the area in 1917. This time it was Mustard gas. Both gases were later named Yperit.

But this is not an article about war. Ieper has an interesting festival dedicated to cats. Yes, you read right. The festival is called "Kattenstoet".

The festival has its origin in the Middle Ages. People saw them as devils or witches. Mass killings of cats were quite common. There are opinions that such horrific treatment of cats contributed to the spread of the Black Death. This illness reached its peak between 1347 and 1351. It was caused by a bacterium named Yersinia pestis (Plague). It was usually spread by the rodents. With more cats number of rodents would be far less.

What about Ieper? People of Ieper had slightly different, but equally stupid, reason for killing cats. Ieper used to be an important centre of wool trade. Before sale the wool was kept in the town's Cloth Hall. To keep the wool safe from rodents cats lived there. When the wool was sold cats were not needed anymore. So, people organized mass killing of cats.

Cloth Hall in Ieper
Cloth Hall in Ieper

On the last day of the annual fair, which was also called Cat Wednesday, the Grote Markt (Market Square) was full of people. On that day the city jester killed cats by throwing them from the Cloth Hall tower. This tradition was kept alive for centuries. The last one was held in 1817.

The tradition was brought back to life in 1930. Luckily real cats were not thrown anymore. Instead the organizers used cat dolls. World War Two again ended the tradition.

From 1946 there has been a a small parade with the condemnation of the cat organized on the Grote Markt.

First big Kattenstoet was held in 1955. New change happened in 1958. Until then the festival was organized on the second Sunday in Lent. New date was the second Sunday in May.

In next decades the festival attracted many important visitors (royals too). The Snoezepoezen (Cuddly Kitties) were introduced too. In 1985 there was no Kattenstoet as the Pope John Paul II visited Ieper.

Between 1959 and 1989 the festival included a Cat Queen and her maids of honour

The 1991 Kattenstoet was the last organized annually. Nowadays there is Kattenstoet festival every three years. The next festival will be held on the 10th May 2015.

Cieper - King of the Cats

The Kattenstoet starts with a big parade. The parade nowadays include cats in all shapes and sizes. Most of them are made of papier-mâché. The most impressive cats in the parade are huge Cieper or "King of the Cats" and his wife Minneke Poes. Locals say that they got married in 1971. Some of the cats are presented through different themes, topics for example "Cat Worship in History" or "The Cat around the World"

Minneke Poes
Minneke Poes

There are numerous stilt walkers, flag throwers and marching bands too. Many of the participants in the parade wear medieval costumes.

Kattenstoet marching band

Not long after the end of parade there is the cat throwing done by a jester from the Cloth Hall tower. Cat toys are thrown to the audience gathered. The Kattenstoet finishes with fireworks.