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Les Gayants de Douai - city giants

Gayants family
The family group - all the giants outside the Town Hall, with the local mayor.

City mascots since 1530
Douai's giants started as part of celebrations of French defeats - the town was then part of Flanders. The Count of Flanders narrowly escaped capture during an attack by a French armed gang in 1479. Douai started an annual festival each June in honour of the town's patron St. Maurand who was supposed to have helped.

In 1530, following another defeat of the French, a bigger and better pageant was ordered by the Spanish rulers of Flanders - and the town's Guild of basket-makers made a float with a wickerwork giant called "GAYANT", the Picardy dialect form of the French word "géant". The following year, the guild of fruiterers made him a giant wife: Madame Gayant ("Marie Cagenon"). Back to top

Controversial Gayants
Douai became a French town in 1667, and the Bishop of Arras ordered a new festival on July 6th to celebrate the French victory. He cancelled the old pageant because it celebrated a French defeat, and banned the gayants because they were too profane - their procession by now included devils and a dragon!

Famous local artist Louis Watteau painted the revived giants parade in 1780 (or 1781)

18th century
They were revived in 1780, only to be banned in 1792 because the atheist French Revolution disapproved of religious processions, and said the Gayants portrayed aristocrats (see Watteau's painting, left.).

They reappeared in 1801, dressed as ordinary people in the fashions of the time - apart from the warrior, M. Gayant.

By today's standards, most of these giants were quite small, and could be carried by one man.
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Bigger and better gayants since 1821

1. Gayants tower over the crowd in the street by the Town Hall
2. The Spanish Soldier is one of the characters in the "Wheel of Fortune", representing the ups and downs of fate.
3. The baby giant is "Binbin", a tiny 2.40m high, and loved by small children.

Following Napoleon's defeat in 1815 and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, the gayants received the costumes familiar to us today. They were destroyed during the German occupation of the town in each of the two world wars, and each time rebuilt. Each year on the Sunday after the 5th July, Monsieur and Madame Gayant are joined in procession round the town by their children: Jacquot, Fillon and Binbin; by the figures of the "Wheel of Fortune", and by a "fool" riding a hobbyhorse.
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How the giants work.
Mr. Gayant is 8.5 metres tall, weighs 370kg; his wife is 6.25 m high. Each consists of a lightweight wickerwork frame carried by 6 men, and steered by looking out through a small flap in the skirt [picture right]. The children are much smaller (2.40 to 3.40m) and each can be carried by one person on their own.
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Other Places to visit:
Chartreuse Museum - local museum & art gallery, Douai
"Les Gayantines" - sweets for giants from Douai
River Tours - starting from Douai

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Information (from Tourist Information Office):
Tel: 00 33 3 27 88 26 79 - Fax: 00 33 3 27 99 38 78
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Background information
Giants of Nord/Pas-de-Calais




Douai's Belfry © Copyright 1999-2001 Invicta Media. Last updated 21st February 2001