The Belgian city of Ghent had an humble beginning as a modest settlement at the confluence of Scheldt and Lys Rivers after the Roman Empire collapsed around 5th century. The Lys still surrounds the old city like a moat.
Ghent flourished in the Middle Ages due to its lucrative trade in textile. In the medieval times it became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe. It is now a beautiful, busy, vibrant and lively metropolis adorned with many architectural wonders.
In the 12th century the ardent Belgian crusader Count Philip of Alsace built the Gravensteen Castle modeled after castles he had seen in the Holy Land. It now houses a museum about prison life with a weird collection of medieval torture contraptions.
This castle, partially surrounded by the medieval moat, is still worth a visit. From here you can have a good view of the city that boasts of several museums, 100 churches and at least 400 historical monuments.
Saint Bavo Cathedral is undoubtedly Ghent’s most splendid man-made creation. Generations of wealthy cloth traders took almost 300 years to complete this awesome edifice in the mid-16th century, reflecting – as the traders wanted – their opulence and importance.
Its interiors are very impressive with 33 meter high ceiling, a monumental baroque pulpit, several beautifully decorated tombs of monks and monarchs, and a collection of paintings by famous Flemish masters that include Paul Rubens’ Saint Bavo Entering the Monastery and the multi-section The Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck.
Close to Saint Bavo is the 13th century Church of St Nicholas, patron-saint of powerful and rich traders of those days. It was built – like its neighbor and contemporary cathedral – in Flemish Gothic style using elegant blue-gray stone quarried from nearby Tourani area. Once inside, have a look at the gigantic pipe organ. Go there on a Sunday morning and listen to it playing music.
The 14th century Belfry Tower dominates the city skyline along the church and the cathedral. For many centuries the Tower served as the town treasury, bell tower and also a fortified watchtower.
Close to Belfry is the St James’ Church featuring two attractive towers from the Romanesque period.
Walking is the best way to explore this wonderful city. Ghent has grown around historic churches and there were many of those in the city even in the distant past.
You mustn’t leave Ghent without visiting the delightful Graslei and the Koornlei areas near the ancient harbor right in the middle of the city. The elegant facades of medieval buildings in these areas reflect the superior aesthetic taste and abundance affluence of the builders.
There are many restaurants and cafes – quaint and small, sleek and swanky – scattered all over the city serving traditional and international cuisine. Nightlife is quite lively. Beer is the most popular drink and available in 400 varieties!
A wide range of hotels are available in this tourist-friendly city. The Marriott, overlooking the Koornlei on the banks of the River Lys, is undoubtedly the best hotel. Tariff starts from 140 Euro a night.
Ghent is a rare paradise on earth that travelers can easily reach through nearby Brussels international airport!