Ghent breathes history but is also brimming with culture and modern city life. The city’s highlights include the Mystic Lamb, the acclaimed lighting plan which illuminates the buildings in a magical way after sunset, the Light Festival which takes place every three years (the next edition is in 2018), the Ghent Festivities and the largest range of veggie offerings in Europe. Not yet convinced? Ghent’s history, art, wonderful architecture, water, rock ’n roll top gastronomy and joie de vivre are sure to win you over. The city also makes every effort to ensure that visitors enjoy their stay, including the thousands of students who provide Ghent with a fresh young vibe every academic year. For example, you can discover an alternative side to Ghent with the Concrete Canvas Tour which takes you on a cycling or walking tour of the city’s graffiti.
Must sees in Ghent:
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.
Graslei and Korenlei
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 house of the Grain Weighers, the Guildhall of the Free Boatmen, the Spijker… every house on the Graslei has its own history. Together they form the story of the incredible blossoming of Ghent’s economy during the Middle Ages. On the other side of the water is the Korenlei. All that remains of some of the original buildings is the outer walls! Behind them is a brand new hotel.
The Patershol quarter is the medieval heart of the city. The Friary of the Calced Carmelites, dating back to 1329, was fully restored at the end of the last century and reopened as an exhibion space. Thirty years ago, you could buy a little house here for next to nothing. Today, the Patershol is one of the city’s most desirable neighbourhoods. For good dining, you can choose from one of the many restaurants which have sprung up in the medieval alleys. From Japanese to Thai, to delicious traditional Flemish cooking, you’ll find everything here.
STAM – Ghent City Museum
Ghent has something from every period of history and that also applies to the STAM – Ghent City museum: the 14th-century abbey, the 17th-century monastery and the new 21st-century development together form the Ghent City museum. Unmistakably contemporary against a unique historical background, the museum tells the story of Ghent through inspiring collection pieces and interactive multimedia. Past, present and future are illustrated in a clear and interesting trail, detailing Ghent’s transformation from a medieval metropolis into a city of knowledge and culture. A wonderful location – the restored Bijloke Abbey, an enormous aerial photo on an illuminated glass floor, white LEGO towers that invite visitors to build their very own story of Ghent… The Ghent City museum offers a surprising adventure both through its collection and presentation – in an unforgettable journey through time you’ll discover what made Ghent the city it is today. Moreover, temporary exhibitions delve deeper into what makes a city a city.
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. 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. Restoration of St Bavo’s Cathedral
Since the spring of 2013, the tower of the Saint Bavo Cathedral has been under scaffolding, undergoing a major overhaul. The tower and four stained glass windows are top of the list. The works will be carried out from top to bottom and the scaffolding will be taken down as soon as a section has been completed. But that will be some time in coming, because the restoration works won’t be over for at least four years.
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
The Van Eyck brothers painted this unique altarpiece in 1432. It is the highlight of the Flemish Primitives and a milestone in art history. The Polyptych survived the Protestant Iconoclasm, fell into French hands under Napoleon and was requisitioned by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. But it has now been hanging peacefully for more than 50 years in the place where it belongs: St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Though admittedly, the ‘Just Judges’ panel, which was stolen in 1934, is still replaced by a reproduction.