Ghent

Introduction

This is how Lonely Planet introduces our city...

"Asking citizens of Ghent what they think of their city is a pointless exercise: you’ll find only unanimous love. And with good reason. Ghent is one of Europe’s greatest discoveries – small enough to feel cosy but big enough to stay vibrant. It has enough medieval frivolity to create a spectacle but retains a gritty industrial edge that keeps things ‘real’. Tourists remain surprisingly thin on the ground, yet with its fabulous canalside architecture, wealth of quirky bars and some of Belgium’s most fascinating museums, this is a city you really won’t want to miss."

History

Archeological research has proved that there was human settlement in Ghent during prehistoric times. Only later, in the Roman period, the nucleus of a city began to grow near the confluence of the two rivers Scheldt and Leie. (The flemish name 'Gent' is probably derived from the Celtic 'Ganda', which meant confluence). It was around the year 630 that Ghent continued to grow when the Abbey of Saint Peter (later Abbey of Saint Bavo) was founded. Later, a second abbey was founded on the so-called 'Blandijnberg'. It was around these two religious centers that a residential nucleus came into existence. This early city was important enough to create a 'portus' with commercial activity. Charlemagne gave it a fleet for protection against the Vikings. In both 851 and 879 the Vikings attacked and plundered the city. Shortly afterwards a first wooden fortification was built for better protection. It stood on the spot where now the impressive 'Castle of the Count' can be visited.

Architecture

Much of the city's medieval architecture remains intact and is remarkably well preserved and restored. Its centre is the largest carfree area in Belgium. Interesting highlights are the Saint Bavo Cathedral with the Ghent Altarpiece, the belfry, the Gravensteen castle, and the splendid architecture along the old Graslei harbour. Ghent established a nice blend between comfort of living and history – it is not a city-museum. The city of Ghent also houses three béguinages and numerous churches including the Saint-Jacob's church, the Saint-Nicolas' church and the Saint Michael's church. In the 19th century Ghent's most famous architect, Louis Roelandt, built the university hall Aula, the opera house and the main courthouse. Highlights of modern architecture are the university buildings (the Boekentoren or Book Tower) by Henry Van de Velde. There are also a few theatres from diverse periods. The beguinages, as well as the belfry and adjacent cloth hall, were recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1998 and 1999.