Belgium, Gent

Lonely Planet has called Ghent “Europe’s best kept secret” and a must see destination. National Geographic Traveler Magazine has listed Ghent as the most authentic historic city in the world and full of life. There is no way not to visit this city.

The Leie river flows through the Ghent city. The river has beaconed the Ghent boarder between the 11th and 15th century.

For authentic pubs check the place around St. Jacob's church (especially during weekends).

The library building.

This totem pole depicts songs by Karel Waeri, the 19th-century folk singer from Ghent who is known for his music criticising society, such as his so-called vetjes – songs in Ghent dialect in which he didn’t mince his words. The artist, Walter De Buck, is a singer himself and performs several songs by Karel Waeri as part of his repertoire.

St. James church is the oldest church in the Low Countries dedicated to this apostle. There was already a wood chapel at this location in 1093. Later on, a Romanesque basilica was built with limestone from Doornik. Inside the basilica, there are numerous treasures and valuable paintings.

The two towers still date from the Romanesque period, but since then the church has undergone much devastation, expansion and renovation. The square around it, called Bij Sint-Jacobs, and the Trefpunt café are the true epicentre of the world-famous Ghent Festivities, the annual people’s festival in mid-July which really signals the beginning of summer in Ghent.

Once the city’s forum for public meetings and executions, this large square is named for the Friday market (still held). Tempting cafés sit beneath step-gabled facades surveyed by a grand statue of Jacob van Artevelde , Ghent's 14th-century anti-French leader.

The oldest building at Vrijdagmarkt was once the guildhall of Ghent’s leather tanners. It fell into decay in the early 20th century, but in the 1980s the building was renovated. It now houses a poetry centre. ‘t Toreken is named after its main feature: the tall watchtower. On the top of the tower, you can see a mermaid who turns with the wind and symbolically protects the inland waterways. There are no stairs in the whole building, because its former inhabitants used ladders to climb the tower. The logic is that ladders could be pulled up in case someone attacked the building. Renovations brought an elevator, which is said to be the slowest in Belgium, because too much vibration would damage the monument.

If you fancy a drink or a snack, there are plenty of restaurants on this square and in the cosy alleys that lead to it. This is where you’ll find Tavern Dulle Griet, a legendary café serving more than 250 Belgian beers where you give your shoe as a deposit for a pint! Jozef’s chip shop is equally well-known.

The Leie river with cafes. Boat tours available, offering another view at the Ghent city sights.

Het Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts). Built by Count Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders, soon after he returned from the Crusades in 1180 with images of similar crusader castles in the Holy Land. Climb up to the ramparts of the high central building, the donjon, which has great views of Ghent's rooftops and towers.

Opposite the Castle of the Counts lies the monumental gateway (1689) to the Old Fish Market. Neptune keeps watch over the Scheldt (male) and the Lys (female). The entirely renovated complex houses, among others, the Ghent Tourist Office.

Sint-Veerleplein, one of Ghent's oldest squares. The monument is of a Flemish Lion on the 'Pilorijn'.

The Castle of the Counts entrance gates.

The Counts of Flanders’ quintessential 12th-century stone castle comes complete with moat, turrets and arrow slits. It’s all the more remarkable considering that during the 19th century the whole site was converted into a cotton mill.

The castle interior now sports the odd suit of armour, a guillotine and a few torture devices.

I personally liked this two-handed sword which is bigger than an average man.

A view of Ghent historical center from the Castle of the Counts top.

Renovated interiors of the Castle of the Counts look too much artificial.

The castle looks very powerful from below.

Fillips of Alsace who was count of Flanders between 1157 and 1191 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. Ant there are many other crosses throughout the castle.

One of Graslei buildings facades. The buildings at number 9 (this one) and 12 are former guildhalls of grain traders

Ask ten inhabitants of Ghent what the most beautiful place in their city is and nine will answer the Graslei. Today this medieval port with its unique row of historical buildings, which are reflected in the long river, is the meeting place par excellence. Young and old, inhabitant and visitor, everyone meets on one of the many café patios or simply by the water. This is the thriving heart of the inner city.

The Guild House of Free Boatmen.

The former post office, with its beautiful clock tower, now houses a shopping centre.

From the 11th century until the late Middle Ages, the quays of Graslei and Korenlei served as the city’s main port as well as a major trade centre for grain. On sunny days, the quays of Graslei and Korenlei are usually packed with people, simply because locals love to hang out at this picturesque spot.

The former post office.

The best views of the Graslei are from St Michael’s bridge or from Korenlei across the Leie River.

The steeple of St Michael’s Church should have stood out above all the others, but history decided otherwise: the 134 metre high planned ‘monument of triumph’, has remained at a paltry 24 metres. In 1828, the unfinished tower finally acquired a closed roof. The church contains numerous paintings and sculptures by famous masters, including ‘Christ on the Cross’ by Anthony Van Dyck.

The St. Michael's Church tower.

A view from St Michael’s bridge at the former post office and St Nicholas' Church.

The release of ‘The Monuments Men’ (where Ghent Altarpiece is one of the main monuments) in the movie theatres was reason enough for graffiti artist Bart Smeets to paint a grand graffiti piece of art on the subject. Commissioned by film producer 20th Century Fox he ‘sprays’ a huge 100m² painting on the wall of Tourism Ghent administration building.

This church in Tournai bluestone is one of the most beautiful examples of the Scheldt Gothic style. One of its unique elements is that the tower is not above the entrance, but above the crossing of the nave and transepts. It functions as a sort of natural lantern as the light shines into the transept from the tower.

Its belfry is one of the 'three towers of Ghent' that form a distinctive city image - in fact it was the first of the three to grace the city skyline. A baroque high altar and other rich decorations embellish the interior.

The Belfry is the proudest symbol of the city’s independence. The Cloth Hall was built onto the side of the Belfry. In a euphoric Brabant Gothic style, this monument glorifies the industry to which the city owes so much. At the corner of the Cloth Hall is an old jailer’s lodge.

The façade is adorned with the ‘Mammelokker’ which depicts the legend of Cimon who was condemned to starve to death. He was saved by his daughter who fed him daily from her breast (‘mamme’: breast - ‘lokken’: suck). The Belfry is the middle of the famous three-tower row, together with the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and the Saint Nicholas’ Church.

Under the roof of the Ghent Stadshal. The multifunctional and open city pavilion is an architectural masterpiece designed by the architects Robbrecht & Daem / Marie-José Van Hee. The roof structure and the use of glass, wood and concrete are very striking. This location can host concerts, dance performances and markets.

Ghent’s flamboyant city hall was started in 1519 but not finished till 1600 by which time it had transformed into a Renaissance-style palazzo. It's a prime spot for weddings, but tourist access is limited to one-hour guided visits starting from the tourist office.

St Bavo's Cathedral. When Charles V was baptised there in 1500, the metamorphosis from a closed Romanesque church to a spacious Gothic one was fully underway. However, despite substantial financial support from the emperor, the cathedral still remained unfinished 58 years later. As a result, the funeral service for the deceased sovereign could not take place there.

If you’re brave enough to walk the 444 steps of the tower, you’ll be rewarded with a unique view of the city.

All that remains of the original Romanesque church is the crypt. St. Bavo’s Cathedral houses an impressive number of art treasures: the baroque high altar in white, black and red flamed marble, the rococo pulpit in oak, gilded wood and marble, a major work by Rubens, the ‘Calvary Triptych’, attributed to Joos van Wassenhove, alias Justus van Gent, tombs of the Ghent bishops, and much more. However, one work stands out head and shoulders above the rest: the world-famous Adoration of the Mystic Lamb painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck around 1432.

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