The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


14 Apr 2017
  A Virtual Tour through Mediaeval Ghent

Let us take a little tour of Ghent in Flanders, one of the largest towns in Europe in the 13th century, famous for its trade in fine cloth, member of the Hanseatic League, and a town with a lot of its old buildings intact. In short, the perfect place for me to visit.

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, called Gravensteen (Count's Castle).

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 the ones 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 high 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 lot of tourists around, but I could still mostly photograph around them. The place will be even 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 one of those.

Pretty old houses at the Kornlei

Ghent lies at the confluence of the Leie (Lys) river into the Scheldt (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 Fishers' 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 could only do so in 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 crow step 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 in fine weather.

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 Duivelsteen

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 alleged 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 béguinage

The eldest of the three béguinages 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, béguinages were often founded by nobles to provide charity for the poor, later women had to buy themselves in. Béguinages 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.

Vrijdagsmarkt

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 Brabantian 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 Square 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 (Antwerp and Tongeren) are linked here.
 
Comments:
What a beautiful place! And to find somewhere to stay right by that castle - what a bonus!
 
Jaaaa, Gent ist so bezaubernd, ich glaube sogar, dass mir Gent ein wenig besser als Brügge gefallen hat. Es war nicht so ganz überlaufen.
Bin schon auf die Brüssel-Bilder gespannt, schöne Erinnerung an die Stadt!

 
Anerje, Ghent - and Bruges - are definitely worth a visit.

Liebe Silberdistel, ich muss gestehen, dass auch mir Gent sogar noch ein bischen besser gefallen hat als Brügge. Brüssel hatte ich übrigens nicht auf der Liste; da bin ich nur mit dem Zug durchgefahren - besonders hübsch sah die Stadt nicht aus. ;-)
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.


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Location: Goettingen, Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


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Riga
The History of Mediaeval Riga

Tallinn
The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


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The Siege of Vilnius 1390

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The Geminid Dynasty
Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas


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The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
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European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
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Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
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Gotland
The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd


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Fram Expedition to the South Pole

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Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

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Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


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History in Literature and Music

History in Literature

Biographies of German Poets and Writers
Theodor Fontane

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
(Translated by me)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

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Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

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Romans
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Other
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


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Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite


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