Ghent/Gent/Gand- Medieval Ghent

Ghent Travel Blog

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View from hotel room
Ghent  (Dutch : Gent; French: Gand; Formerly in English: Gaunt) is the fourth largest city of Belgium with about 250.000 inhabitants. It is not as big as Antwerp but bigger than Bruges. It is also less famous among tourists than the often praised Bruges.

However, for some people Ghent is the real diamond of Flanders and Belgium. In a unique way, Ghent has managed to preserve its medieval power while keeping up with the times. The city center alone is a showcase of medieval Flemish wealth and commercial success.

  Modern Ghent certainly cannot be overlooked in Belgium. The city has an important harbor, thanks to the canal Ghent-Terneuzen which allows sea-going vessels to bring their products to the city and its industrial hinterland. The Ghent University ( UGent ) continues to grow in importance. The presence of so many young people and students has turned Ghent into an important Flemish cultural center.

Ghent is also the flower city of Belgium. Flower growers from the region around Ghent sell their beautiful begonia's and azalea's all over the world.

St Bavo Cathedral
Every 5 years the successful 'Gentse Floraliën" ( Ghent Flower Show) attracts thousands to the city.The tourist will not have eyes enough to admire the awesome architectural wealth , which offers a splendid combination of impressiveness and idyllic charm of the proud and (in former times) often rebellious city of Ghent.

Sightseeing:

Medieval Ghent
Is Ghent the most beautiful city in Belgium?

In any case, a walking trip through the city will make clear that this city was a powerful center of trade and commerce. The citizens of the medieval city certainly did their best to turn Ghent into a rich showcase of beautiful civil gothic buildings.
The Gravensteen
The buildings and monuments can all be seen and visited during a walking tour through the historic center.

St Bavo Cathedral
Ghent may well be the most beautiful city in Belgium and the SAINT BAVO may be the most awesome cathedral in the country. It was named after Saint Bavo, a 7th century local nobleman who became a saint after he had given away his possessions to the poor and entered the monastery. The cathedral with its mighty uprising tower is perhaps the most visible sign of the pride of the citizens of Ghent.

The Gravensteen - located in Sint-Veerleplein
The GRAVENSTEEN is the Dutch name for the 'castle of the count'.

The Gravensteen
The counts of Flanders had castles built in the principal cities of the county. Because they had to maintain law and order, they continuously had to move from one city to the other. Therefore, they disposed of a castle in most cities where they wanted to stay for a few months. The castle of Ghent is the only one which survived the centuries more or less intact.

Archeological excavations have proved that three fortified castles constructed in wood must have stood on the site of today's Gravensteen. Already around the year 1000 the first stone castle must have been erected here. Parts of this, such as the chimney and the fireplace, can still be found in the walls of the lower floors of the main tower.

The Gravensteen, like we know it today, has been  constructed by Fillips of Alsasse who was count of Flanders between 1157 and 1191.

Saint Nicholas church
He took part in one of the crusades and died during the siege of Akko in the Holy Land. The opening in the form of a cross, right above the main entrance gate, proves that he already had taken part in a crusade when the Castle was built around 1177-1178.The Gravensteen functioned as the center of the Count's power during the early Middle-Ages. This is somewhat symbolized by the main keep or 'donjon' (tower) from where one can have a panoramic view over the city. Next to the castle lies the Veerleplein (Veerle square), the place where public  executions took place. The Gravensteen has been used in later times for different purposes. After the counts moved to more comfortable mansions in the later centuries, it was used as the Mint and later as the main prison of Gent. In the nineteenth century a cotton plant was installed here. In the inner court little houses where built for the textile workers of the plant.

Today, the Gravensteen has been beautifully restored. It is still partially surrounded by the medieval moat.

Saint Nicholas church
It can be visited all through the year. Inside of the rooms is a museum about the history of prison life and organization, with a very instructive collection of medieval torture instruments.

Saint Nicholas church
Right in the heart of Ghent stands the Saint Nicholas church, one of the oldest churches of the city. An older version stood here until the 12th century until it burned down in 1120 and 1176. Because of their growing wealth the citizens of Ghent were able to construct a new and much bigger church.  The present-day version was finished between 1220 and 1250.

The style of Saint Nicholas is the so-called 'Scheldt Gothic Style'. It differs from the later Brabantine Gothic Style because of the use of the blue-gray stone from the Tournai area. The city of Tournai with its stone quarries in southern Belgium lies at the river Scheldt.

The Belfry Tower
During the Middle-Ages stone from Tournai could be transported with ships to other cities at the river, such as Ghent. Also very typical for this style is that the main tower stands above the crossing of the church, instead of above the western entrance, the latter being more typical for the Brabantine Gothic Style.

The church belonged to the powerful traders of Ghent, who did their business in the nearby harbor. Saint Nicholas is also the patron saint of the traders. In the 14th century the church had to be enlarged to prevent the tower from collapsing. The tower was used as belfry or watchtower until the construction of the real belfry was finished.

The church did not survive the centuries without damages. In 1566, during the Iconoclasm, a group of Protestants destroyed all the gothic decorations because they no longer believed in worshipping statues and paintings. Numerous churches in the Low Countries underwent the same fate.

The Carillon
During the French Revolution, when the country was attacked by the French revolutionary army, the Saint Nicholas church was degraded and used as a horses stable. After many discussions the restoration of the church was started in the 19th century. The building looked like a ruin and nobody was sure what the church originally had looked like. This reconstruction still continues today. In the meantime, the Saint Nicholas church can again be counted to the most impressive monuments of Gent.

The Belfry tower located in Sint Baafsplein
A Belfry tower is perhaps the most typical building in medieval Flemish cities. It represents the power of the cities and functioned as treasury and watch tower. In the early Middle-Ages most cities were granted a set of privileges from the count or the duke. These rulers were often forced to give the expanding cities certain rights and privileges, such as the right to organize a yearly market, or the staple right for certain products or animals.

The Town Hall
In return, the counts received money or soldiers for their never ending battles and wars to expand their territories.

The privileges were written on documents and were read to each new count or duke who took over power after the death or demise of the previous one. Therefore, the documents had to be preserved very well. This was done in the treasury rooms of the belfry towers. At the same time, the towers were used as the command headquarters of the city's militia, and as watch towers to overlook the city. In case of fire or attacks from a foreign army the population was warned with bells.

The Belfry tower of Ghent is perhaps one of the most impressive ones in Flanders. It dominates, together with the St-Nicholas tower and the cathedral tower the medieval center of the city. The architects were Jan van Aelst and Filips van Beergine. The tower was completed in 1338, when the bells were rung for the English king Edward II.

The Town Hall
At the top corners of the towers a stone soldier on watch was placed. The only remaining original stone soldier was placed in the treasury room in 1870 to preserve the sculpture from further withering. Copies now adorn the four corners of the tower. The 'secret', or treasury room, was protected by two large doors, each with three locks. The keys of these locks were in the hands of the different guilds of Ghent. Therefore, the 'secret' could only be opened in the presence of the main representatives of these powerful leaders of the economic life of the city.

In Ghent, there were always four soldiers on guard on top of the tower. Every hour, they had to blow their horns as a sign that the city was still being guarded.

The Town Hall
Of the numerous medieval buildings of Ghent, the town hall is the one that shows most clearly the history and the fate of the city from the end of the 15th century until now.

The Graslei and the Koornlei

The town hall is situated on the site where until 1482 the town representatives and guild's men met in separate houses. Because these houses were judged too small and too unrepresentative for such important people, it was decided that a new and bigger town hall had to be built. The first stone of this new hall was laid in 1482. The building was finished in 1484. Very soon, however, also this new hall was considered too small and from 1518 until 1535 a new and much bigger town hall was constructed in late-gothic style.

In 1540 Ghent suffered reprisals from emperor Charles V because the citizens had dared to refuse to pay more taxes to the emperor. By then, only one third of the planned town hall had been constructed. It was only as from 1572 that Ghent could continue to build its town hall. However, the architectural style had changed and several renaissance-style parts were added to the building until the beginning of the 18th century.

The Graslei and the Koornlei
In 1750 a construction in Louis XV-style was added as the seat of the 'chamber of the poor'. In the beginning of the 19th century the staircases in front of the hall were changed for a visit of Napoleon.

All through the 19th century several renovations were undertaken. The original furniture of the different rooms is either still present or has been transferred to the Bijloke museum of Ghent.

The Graslei and the Koornlei
When visiting Ghent, one should always go to  this beautiful area of the city: the Graslei and the Koornlei. These are the names of two streets which lie along the banks of the old harbor of Ghent, right in the middle of the city.

The Friday Market (Vrijdagsmarkt)
Graslei means 'street of the herbs and vegetables'. Koornlei stands for 'street of the wheat'. Both names indicate that these specific products where traded or stocked in that area.

The 'SPIJKER' is the oldest house at the Graslei. It dates from the end of the 12th, beginning of the 13th century. In this house, the wheat that ships transported via Ghent had to be stocked for two or three weeks. This was due to the fact that Gent had received the privilege to stock grain and wheat in the SPIJKER to have reserves in times of famine.

The guild house of the 'FREE SAILORS'. This is perhaps the most beautiful house. The original house was built in 1355 but later rebuilt  after it was sold to the guild of sailors in 1530. It boasts a beautiful late-gothic facade. The guild of sailors was one of the most powerful guilds because they had the privilege for ship transportation through the harbor of Ghent.

The Friday Market (Vrijdagsmarkt)

The Friday Market (Vrijdagsmarkt)
Numerous times in the past the fate of Ghent has been decided upon on this beautiful market square. It is called the 'Friday Market' (or Vrijdagmarkt in Dutch) for the simple reason that on Fridays a market takes place here. The market has been witness to numerous celebrations as well as battles. Everything that happened here was related to  the activities of the corporations of which the weavers and the traders were the most powerful. During the Middle-Ages the fate of Ghent largely depended on the wool trade and industry. When the wool industry flourished, so did the rest of the city.

It was here that king Edward II of England was proclaimed king of France in 1340 by the guilds under the command of Jacob Van Artevelde whose statue now occupies a central spot on the market.

The Meat Hall
This proclamation was an attempt of Ghent to preserve the close trade relations with England, because for the wool production they depended heavily on the import of the raw material from across the channel. It gave the citizens of Ghent a reason to rebel against the king of France, from whom the fiefdom of Flanders actually depended. This revolution was led by  Jacob Van Artevelde, who then became a 'national' hero of Gent. However, not for long : he was murdered a few years later by the same citizens whose interests he had tried to protect.

Nowadays, the Friday Market offers the visitor a beautiful panorama of old medieval houses. The most remarkable building is the 'Toreken' (or: little tower), a building from the 15th century. From the little tower most of the new trade regulations were read aloud to everyone present on the square.

Dulle Griet

In the left corner stands a building in a completely different style: the house of the socialist trade union, built around the beginning of the 20th century in Art Nouveau style.

The Meat Hall
This beautiful building with its baroque facade from 1689 stands near to the old Gravensteen on the Saint Veerle square. On top of the facade thrones a statue of Neptune, king of the seas. The other two statues represent the two rivers that flow through Ghent, the Scheldt river and the Leie river.

Near the Gravensteen stands the impressive meat hall, builtbetween 1407 and 1419. The gothic building with its large stepgable facade was used in the 15th and 16th centuries as the central hall where the butchers of Ghent could sell their meat.

Saint Michael's Bridge
It is now a café/restaurant with a very appropriate ceiling decoration.

Dulle Griet
Dulle Griet is the name of a large medieval canon-gun In the area of the 'Vrijdagmarkt' (Friday's market). It dates from the 15th century. On the chamber of the gun are the arms of the House of Burgundy, a Saint Andrew's cross and the weapons of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The gun measures 5,025 m and weighs 16.400 Kg. It was capable of firing cannonballs of 340 Kg. In 1578 it was brought by ship over the river Scheldt from the town of Oudenaarde to Ghent.

Saint Michael's Bridge
Right in the center of town lies the Saint Michael's bridge.

Bathroom
This is THE spot to admire the architectural wealth of Ghent. On the right side stands the medieval St.Michael's church. From here you also have the best view over the famous 'panorama of the three towers'. On the left side lie the 'Graslei' and 'Koornlei', two streets alongside the Leie river. Some of the most beautiful medieval houses in Belgium can be spotted from here. On the corner of the bridge all attention is drawn to the Post-Office of Ghent. The neo-gothic building was only constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, but the style does not clash with the existing beauties of the city. This building will probably become a shopping center in the near future.

JonLau says:
Thanks for your travel blog, and I will be visiting Ghent for 2 days one night in April. Reading your blog is like walking through Ghent in a virtual tour, and it was so well written and informative. Thanks for sharing this valuable information, and it is much appreciated.

Regards,
Jon
Posted on: Mar 10, 2016
KeikoCreative says:
Hi Andrioux, thanks for your comments and smiles, I'm glad you enjoy reading. I hope one day you'll make a trip to Gent.
Posted on: May 21, 2013
Andrioux says:
Wow - what wonderfully written blog! I really enjoyed reading it. Very informative and entertaining.
Posted on: May 20, 2013
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View from hotel room
View from hotel room
St Bavo Cathedral
St Bavo Cathedral
The Gravensteen
The Gravensteen
The Gravensteen
The Gravensteen
Saint Nicholas church
Saint Nicholas church
Saint Nicholas church
Saint Nicholas church
The Belfry Tower
The Belfry Tower
The Carillon
The Carillon
The Town Hall
The Town Hall
The Town Hall
The Town Hall
The Graslei and the Koornlei
The Graslei and the Koornlei
The Graslei and the Koornlei
The Graslei and the Koornlei
The Friday Market (Vrijdagsmarkt)
The Friday Market (Vrijdagsmarkt)
The Friday Market (Vrijdagsmarkt)
The Friday Market (Vrijdagsmarkt)
The Meat Hall
The Meat Hall
Dulle Griet
Dulle Griet
Saint Michaels Bridge
Saint Michael's Bridge
Bathroom
Bathroom
Bath & Shower
Bath & Shower
Bathroom
Bathroom
Mini Bar
Mini Bar
Interior of the room
Interior of the room
Interior of the room
Interior of the room
Interior of the room
Interior of the room
Window view
Window view
Windows of the opposite building
Windows of the opposite building
Dinner time
Dinner time
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Gent at night
Front desk
Front desk
Hotel lobby
Hotel lobby
Hotel lobby
Hotel lobby
To the bar/lounge
To the bar/lounge
Side of the hotel
Side of the hotel
Hotel courtyard
Hotel courtyard
Hotel courtyard
Hotel courtyard
Hotel courtyard
Hotel courtyard
Hotel courtyard
Hotel courtyard
Swimming pool
Swimming pool
Hotel courtyard
Hotel courtyard
Hotel Lobby
Hotel Lobby
Hotel Bar/Lounge
Hotel Bar/Lounge
From left to right± Old post offi…
From left to right± Old post off…
Soooooooo blueeeeeeee.....:P
Soooooooo blueeeeeeee.....:P
Gigantic toilet paper sculpture
Gigantic toilet paper sculpture
Cool sculpture
Cool sculpture
The Graslei is one of the most sce…
The Graslei is one of the most sc…
The Meat Hall
The Meat Hall
Shopping street
Shopping street
Shopping street
Shopping street
Unique dressing
Unique dressing
Dulle Griet
Dulle Griet
Statue of Jacob van Artevelde on t…
Statue of Jacob van Artevelde on …
Bag piper from Scotland performing…
Bag piper from Scotland performin…
Bag piper from Scotland performing…
Bag piper from Scotland performin…
Ghent Hotels & Accommodations review
The hotel that gives extended services to thier customers
We had booked Novotel Hotel in Gent for our short getaway during September 2007. As usual we booked in advance to get the best deal. Few days before… read entire review
Ghent
photo by: lasersurge