Dominated by the Cathedral - Antwerp's Old Town
Antwerp is a bigger city than Ghent or the charming Bruges, with one of the largest ports in Europe and a famous shopping mile, but the historical centre is no larger than in the other towns.
Interior of the central railway station in Antwerp
I visited the city on a day trip from Ghent - the train connections are very good - so the first thing I saw of Antwerp was the railway station, an imposing hall in the Art Nouveau style built between 1895-1905 and renovated in the 1980ies, after the consequences of bomb damage during WW2 and constant vibrations from the fast speed trains had made the building instable.
The spire of the cathedral against the morning sun
It followed a walk along the 'fashion mile' to the old town. Antwerp is famous for its fashion, but since I can get the labels I want in my home town, I didn't stop in any of the stores. I like nice clothes, but I'm not a fashionista. If you want to do some shopping, you need to plan more time for your visit to Antwerp, though.
The towers of the cathedral westwork
One cannot miss the way, because the 123 metres (404 foot) high tower of the cahtedral is well visible, especially in the morning sun. Originally, there should have been two towers crowning the westwork, but at some point the money went out. The story of so many public buildings. ;-)
Cathedral of Our Lady, interior
Like so many other Gothic churches, the Cathedral of Our Lady has been erected in place of an older church. Construction started in 1352, but it took about two hundred years to finish, so most of it is in the Brabantian Gothic style, known as flamboyant style in England. It is an imposing seven-naved building of 120 metres (390 ft.) length and 75 metres (264 ft.) width.
Details of the crossing cupola
The interior of the cathedral was severely damanged in a fire in 1533, and during the Calvinist iconoclasitc fury, much was destroyed as well, but today several paintings of Rubens as well as other works from his compatriots are displayed in the church. Most of the other interior is Neo-Gothic, like fe. the choir stalls.
The cathedral is closely surrounded by houses, so it was difficult to get good exterior shots. But I found a nook between roofs where I got get a closeup of some flying buttresses. I'll save a few more photos for another post about the cathedral.
In front of the cathedral is the Glove Makers' Market, one of several places in Antwerp. It is rather cozy with some pretty old houses with crow-stepped gables.
Fine old houses at the Grote Markt
More of those houses can be found on the Grote Markt
, the Great Market. Those are even more splendidly decorated. Most of them are 19th century reconstructions of old Renaissance and Baroque houses, but they kept the style matching the town hall.
The town hall of Antwerp
The town hall of Antwerp is late Gothic in style, one of the finest town halls in Belgium.
The well in front of it shows the foundation legend of Antwerp - (H)ant werpen
(Hand Throwing). Some evil giant took a toll from every ship passing on the nearby Scheldt river and cut the hand off everyone who didn't pay, until a Roman soldier named Silvio Brabo put an end to it by cutting the hand off the giant. He threw the hand into the river, and on that island Antwerp was built.
The name rather goes back to aanwerp
, a headland. The oldest remaining part of the town is the castle Het Steen
on a headland in the Scheldt river. The castle dates back to the 12th century, though it has been changed in 1520 when Charles V had it altered to accomodate artillery. The keep was also replaced by a palace building.
The Steen was used as prison from the 15th - 19th century; until 2011 it had been a museum.
The Steen, seen from the other side
The Steen looks like the little brother of the Gravensteen, but once it was part of a series of fortifications that protected access to Antwerp and controlled the traffic on the Scheldt river.
The river Scheldt
The river Scheldt which enters the North Sea 60 miles further north-west has always been the heart of Antwerp, its harbour in the Middle Ages, its port nowadays. In the 19th century, more than two million people left Europe for America by ship from Antwerp.
I left the town in direction of the railway station and back to Ghent.
A Virtual Tour through Mediaeval Ghent
Let us take a little tour of Ghent, this time with photos from the main camera. The smartphone camera works well enough on the small mobile screen, but when I checked my Twitter travel series (link see sidebar) I noticed that esp. the interior shots were not up to the standard of my other camera. But I still like the idea of taking some extra pics during a tour and post them in the evenings.
Gravensteen castle, just a few steps from my hotel
It was warm and sunny when I arrived in Ghent. And right outside the very nice hotel situated in a old town house, I found this fascinating castle. Both hotel and castle are called Gravensteen
No question where to go first. :-)
A big whopping castle in the middle of Ghent
The castle is huge and I spent quite some time exploring all the corners and rooms, inlcuding the torture chamber. Unfortunately, the historical buildings in Flanders often don't provide guidebooks like I keep bringing back home from Scotland or Wales (or the more famous German sites) so I will have to hunt down some information for a longer post some later time.
The great hall
The castle was built by the counts of Flanders in the 12th century. They lived in the place until about 1400 when they moved to the - now destroyed - Prince's Palace. The castle then served as hight court of justice until the French Revolution and afterwards housed a cloth manufactury. The Gravensteen was restored to its Mediaeval look in the early 20th century.
Outer curtain walls with walkway and battlements
Due to the fine weather and it being a Sunday, there were a bunch of tourists around, but I could still mostly photograph around them. The place will be more crowded in late spring and summer. There also was a knight in shining armour who posed for pictures with the kids.
The oldest hall
The castle is dominated by the donjon turned into a great hall, surrounded a set of curtain walls with 24 watch towers. The high double gate tower reminds me a bit of the Edwardian castles in the UK. The oldest hall (photo above) is now under the ground level of the inner bailey.
The gate tower seen from the curtain walls
When I finally left the Gravensteen I walked around in the old town, looking for pretty vistas which I found in abundance, esp. with the sun and lots of water to add to the beauty. Later I also took a tour on the canals - you can't visit either Ghent or Bruges without doing those.
Pretty old houses at the Kornlei
Ghent lies at the confluence of the Leie (Lys) rive into the Schelt (which in turn enters the North Sea) and had been criscrossed by canals called Grachten
in the Middle Ages. Many of them have been filled in or covered up in later centuries, but there are still a number of waterways around, and the town plans to open up several more.
A canal tour by boat
Here is a shot from the boat. The red brick building to the right is the Fish Hall, a Neogothic building at the place of the old fish market. There are a lot of tourists from the French speaking part of Belgium around, so the guide gave the tour in Flemish Dutch, French and English. A fun way to pick up some Flemish.
Vleeshuis - the Butchers' Hall
At the other side one can see the Butcher's Hall. The quality control of meat was very important and every butcher who wanted to sell his wares had to restrict himself to this hall since the 15th century - the time to which the building dates. Today, local food produces are sold in the hall.
Old houses at the Graslei
And more pretty houses, either truly old, or restored. The grey stone house with the steeped gable dates to the 13th century. Graslei and the opposite Korenlei (not to be confused with the Kornlei in a photo further up) were the old town harbour. Today the quays are full of restaurants where one can sit outside - it was warm enough even in the evenings to do so.
Het Rabot - the remaining city wall gate
The remaining town gate, called The Rabot, dates to the late 15th century. It is a combination of gate and sluice, situated where the river Leie crosses the town moat. The name is a corruption of the French word rabattre
- shut down the beams.
The next morning started out misty, but the sun came out about mid day.
The fortified manor of Geraard de Duivelsteen was one of the first stone houses in Ghent. It started out as fortified house in the 13th century. The large windows were probably added by Geraard 'the Devil' in the 14th century. We don't know for sure why I got that nickname; some say that he had an unusually dark skin, others blame his five marriages and mysteriously dying wives.
Town hall, the Gothic façade
The town hall is a work of several centuries, as its façades show: the older one is flamboyant Gothic, the younger one Renaissance style. The Gothic part was begun in 1518 to grand plans, but only part of the house was eventually built and most of the niches in the façade don't hold any statues as was intended. When construction was continued, the style had changed and the other side got a Renaissance design.
The 13th century Ter Hoyen beguinage
The eldest of the three beguinages in Ghent. Beguines were women who lived together in a semi-religious community without taking vows (though they remained chaste). A lot of them were widows. In the Middle Ages, beguinages were often founded by nobles to provide charity for the poor, later women had to buy themselves in. Beguinages are typical for Flanders and the Netherlands where they were in use until the last century.
Yard in the Huis van Alijn
Huis van Alijn once was a hospital and infirmary, then an ethnological museum, and now a museum showing furniture of the 20th century. Well, I didn't care about rooms decorated in the style of the 1970ies - I had one of those myself - but the courtyard with its little pub is a lovely and quiet place to sit and have one of the famous Belgian beers.
The Friday Market is the place in the Ghent that has seen a lot of history since 1199, processions and tournaments, but also revolts and bloodbaths, like the feud between the weavers and fullers in 1314. Edward III of England was given a splendid reception here in 1340, much to the displeasure of the King of France.
St.Nicolai Church and Stone Masons' Guild Hall (right)
A nice view of one of the churches of Ghent, St.Nicolai, another Gothic building, with the Stone Masons' Guild Hall to the right. The latter had been hiding behind a façade from the 19th century until 1976. The old one has now been restored.
St.Bavo cathedral, the Romanesque crypt
The most famous church is St.Bavo Cathedral. The building is mostly 16th century Gothic, but the crypt is Romanesque, remains of an older church beneath it. The famous Ghent Altar of van Eyck is displayed in the cathedral, but no photos of that one, sorry. Absolutely verboten.
The canals of Ghent
Let us return to the cathedral and the Bavo Place in front of its westwork. The place is framed on the other side by another building with a tall tower, the belfry of the Cloth Merchants' Guild Hall (Lakenhal
A tale of two towers:Right: belfry of the Cloth Merchants' Hall; left: tower of St.Bavo cathedral
There was a competition going on between the rich merchants and the Church who could build the higher tower. Today, the belfry of the Cloth Merchants' Guild Hall and the main tower of St. Bavo Cathedral dominate the skyline of Gent's old town. The third, the tower of St.Nicolai Church, isn't quite as high. The belfry is 91 metres high, the cathedral tower 89. The merchants won.
Evening in the Patershol quarter
In the 19th century, the Patershol was a poor workmen's quarter and fell into decline when most of the industry left the town, but in the last 20something years the houses have been renovated, and today it is a very nice place.
Posts about Bruges and the other places I've visited (Aix-en-Chapelle, Antwerp and Tongeren) will follow in the next days.