Ghent is the capital of East Flanders and has about 250,000 inhabitants. It is one of the most outstanding art cities in Europe. Ideal for city trip! After Antwerp and Zeebrugge, the port of Ghent, which is connected by canals with the North Sea and Western Scheldt, is the third largest in Belgium. The city’s foundation dates back to the two monasteries of Saint Bravo and Saint Peter in the 7th century. Many medieval buildings still characterize the cityscape today. It is dominated by the three towers: the Belfry, the tower of St. Bavo Cathedral and St. Niklas Church. Many will be familiar with the “Ghent Altar” with its Old Dutch painting, which is located in the Sint Baafskathedraal. Museum lovers are spoilt for choice: whether it is the Museum of Industry, the S.M.A.K for contemporary art, or the Museum of Fine Arts… The number of attractions in Ghent is large.
Tip 1: Gravensteen
If you are interested in knights and castles, the Gravensteen Castle in Ghent will be the absolute highlight of your city trip. As a landmark of the city, it will take you back to the medieval age of knights during your visit.
Gravensteen is the only medieval moated castle in Flanders that has remained completely intact despite various sieges, destructions and reconstructions. The mighty castle was built by Balduin I, who was also known as “Iron Arm” – if that’s not a coincidence? Today you can visit the imposing and mysterious fortress and immerse yourself in its eventful past. For example, explore the eerie torture tools of the count’s castle, which was the seat of medieval justice at the time. But today Gravensteen is also used as a venue for numerous cultural festivals in Ghent.
Tip 2: Graslei
Just a narrow alley away from the Vrijdagmarkt, the two streets to the right and left of the bank of the Leie are often referred to by locals, not without reason, as the beating heart of downtown Ghent. The city’s most beautiful historic facades gather along the canal. Excursion boats pass by, on which the city can also be explored from the water.
The listed harbor houses and medieval buildings are reflected in the water and are a popular photo motif. The many cafés and restaurants on the waterfront are a popular meeting place for young and old and are also suitable for watching the hustle and bustle on land and on the water and letting the soul dangle a bit.
Tip 3: St Bavo’s Cathedral
On the east side of the Sint-Baafsplein stands the Cathedral of St. Bavo, a majestic brick and granite building with a Romanesque crypt of the previous structure, the Sint-Jans Church. It takes its name from Emperor Charles V, who destroyed the previous church to build a fortress. The cathedral’s High Gothic choir was built in the 13th century, while the late Gothic tower and nave date from the 15th and 16th centuries.
The bright interior of the cathedral is richly decorated with some unique paintings. These include some masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens and Frans Pourbus. The most famous work of art, however, is the Ghent Altarpiece, also known as “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.” It is by far probably the greatest masterpiece of Old Flemish painting.
On the other side of the Sint-Baafsplein stands the 91 meter high bell tower. This is considered the symbol of the independence of the city, because in it were kept the documents of the privileges of Ghent. The tower was begun around 1300 and in 1338 it was already mostly completed. The current spire was restored to its original form at the beginning of this century and replaced the wooden bell tower of 1380.
The tower is crowned by a gilded copper dragon, which was first installed towards the end of the 1370s. Today, however, you can only see a replica there, as well as with the four armed figures at the corners of the platform. Of these, only one of the originals remains, which you can see on the first floor.
Directly adjacent to the bell tower is the magnificent Cloth Hall. This building was designed by the Flemish architect Simon van Assche and was built from 1426 to 1441. In the 18th century it was converted into a prison, but today you can find a restaurant here.
Tip 4: Belfried
The Belfry of Ghent is the tallest in all of Belgium: 91 meters high, it towers unmistakably above the roofs of the houses in the center of the city. Together with the St. Nikolaskeerk and the Sint-Baafskathedraal, it is part of the “Trio of Towers of Ghent”; from the Sint Michielsbrug, it can be easily seen with its fellow towers.
In 1313, it was built as a watchtower to warn and protect the rich city of Ghent against the attacks of the French with loud ringing bells. It had other functions, it was the repository of medieval privileges in the form of documents, watchtower also against conflagration, carillon and storm bell – since 1999 the Ghent Belfry is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage. The tower can be climbed – a worthwhile effort, because from it you have a fantastic view over the whole of Ghent.
Tip 5: Vrijdagmarkt
One of the largest squares in the city is the Vrijdagmarkt. It also plays an important role in the history of the city of Ghent. The Counts of Flanders, whose headquarters were in Ghent, held important festivals here, organized tournaments or had beheadings performed. A market has been held here on Friday mornings since 1199. This gave the square its name. Probably the most important monument on the square is the monument of Jacob van Artevelde. This 14th century Flemish statesman, also known as “the wise man”, once ensured that the Flemish received his fame as a trading nation in Europe.
Two other monumental buildings are the Bond Moyson (1899) and Ons Huis (1902) on the north side of the square. The former once served as “Groote Magazijnen” a department store for fabrics, clothing and herbs. “Ons Huis” has always been the headquarters of the socialist trade union of East Flanders. The Art -deco masterpieces are now used as offices, meeting rooms, library and theater.