Ghent (//; Dutch: Gent [ɣɛnt]; French: Gand [ɡɑ̃]) is a city and a municipality in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province and after Antwerp the largest municipality of Belgium. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Leie and in the Late Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe with some 50,000 people in 1300. It is a port and university city.
The municipality comprises the city of Ghent proper and the surrounding towns of Afsnee, Desteldonk, Drongen, Gentbrugge, Ledeberg, Mariakerke, Mendonk, Oostakker, Sint-Amandsberg, Sint-Denijs-Westrem, Sint-Kruis-Winkel, Wondelgem and Zwijnaarde. With 240,191 inhabitants in the beginning of 2009, Ghent is Belgium's second largest municipality by number of inhabitants. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 1,205 km2 (465 sq mi) and has a total population of 594,582 as of 1 January 2008, which ranks it as the fourth most populous in Belgium. The current mayor of Ghent, Daniël Termont, leads a coalition of the Socialistische Partij Anders, Groen and Open VLD.
The ten-day-long "Ghent Festival" (Gentse Feesten in Dutch) is held every year and attended by about 1-1.5 million visitors.
There are no written records of the Roman period but archaeological research confirms that the region of Ghent was further inhabited.
Around 650, Saint Amand founded two abbeys in Ghent: St. Peter's (Blandinium) and St Bavo's Abbey. The city grew from several nuclei, the abbeys and a commercial centre. Around 800, Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, appointed Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne, as abbot of both abbeys. In 851 and 879, the city was however attacked and plundered twice by the Vikings.
Within the protection of the County of Flanders, the city recovered and flourished from the 11th century, growing to become a small city-state. By the 13th century, Ghent was the biggest city in Europe north of the Alps after Paris; it was bigger than Cologne, or Moscow. Within the city walls lived up to 65,000 people. The belfry and the towers of the Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas' Church are just a few examples of the skyline of the period.
The rivers flowed in an area where a lot of land was periodically flooded. These richly grassed 'meersen' ("water-meadows": a word related to the English 'marsh') were ideally suited for herding sheep, the wool of which was used for making cloth. During the Middle Ages Ghent was the leading city for cloth.
The wool industry, originally established at Bruges, created the first European industrialized zone in Ghent in the High Middle Ages. The mercantile zone was so highly developed that wool had to be imported from Scotland and England. This was one of the reasons for Flanders' good relationship with Scotland and England. Ghent was the birthplace of John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster. Trade with England (but not Scotland) suffered significantly during the Hundred Years' War.
Early modern period
The city recovered in the 15th century, when Flanders was united with neighbouring provinces under the Dukes of Burgundy. High taxes led to a rebellion and eventually the Battle of Gavere in 1453, in which Ghent suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of Philip the Good. Around this time the centre of political and social importance in the Low Countries started to shift from Flanders (Bruges–Ghent) to Brabant (Antwerp–Brussels), although Ghent continued to play an important role. With Bruges, the city led two revolts against Maximilian of Austria, the first monarch of the House of Habsburg to rule Flanders.
In 1500, Juana of Castile gave birth to Charles V, who became Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Although native to Ghent, he punished the city after the 1539 Revolt of Ghent and obliged the city's nobles to walk in front of the Emperor barefoot with a noose (Dutch: "strop") around the neck; since this incident, the people of Ghent have been called "Stroppendragers" (noose bearers). The Saint Bavo Cathedral (Saint Bavo Abbey) was abolished, torn down, and replaced with a fortress for Royal Spanish troops. Only a small portion of the cathedral-abbey was spared demolition.
The late 16th and the 17th centuries brought devastation because of the Eighty Years' War. The war ended the role of Ghent as a centre of international importance. In 1745, the city was captured by French forces during the War of the Austrian Succession before being returned to the Empire of Austria of the House of Habsburg following the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, when this part of Flanders became known as the Austrian Netherlands until 1815, the exile of the French Emperor Napoleon I, the end of the French Revolutionary and later Napoleonic Wars and the peace treaties arrived at by the Congress of Vienna.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the textile industry flourished again in Ghent. Lieven Bauwens, having smuggled the industrial and factory machine plans out of England, introduced the first mechanical weaving machine on the European continent in 1800.
The Treaty of Ghent, negotiated here and adopted on Christmas Eve 1814, formally ended the War of 1812 (the North American phase of the Napoleonic Wars between Great Britain and the United States). After the Battle of Waterloo, Ghent and Flanders, previously ruled from the House of Habsburg in Vienna as the Austrian Netherlands, became a part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands with the northern Dutch for 15 years. In this period, Ghent established its own university (1816) and a new connection to the sea (1824–27).
After the Belgian Revolution, with the loss of port access to the sea for more than a decade, the local economy collapsed and the first Belgian trade-union originated in Ghent. In 1913 there was a World exhibition in Ghent. As a preparation for these festivities, the Sint-Pieters railway station was completed in 1912.
Ghent was occupied by the Germans in both World Wars but escaped severe destruction. The life of the people and the German invaders, in Ghent during World War I is described by H.Wandt in "etappenleven te Gent". In World War II the city was liberated by the British 7th Desert Rats Armoured Division and local Belgian fighters on 6 September 1944.
After the fusions of municipalities in 1965 and 1977, the city is made up of:
The climate in this area has mild differences between highs and lows, and there is adequate rainfall year round. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Ghent has a marine west coast climate, abbreviated "Cfb" on climate maps.
|Climate data for Ghent, Belgium|
|Average high °C (°F)||6|
|Average low °C (°F)||2|
|Average precipitation days||21||15||20||18||20||19||16||17||18||19||19||19||221|
|Source: Weatherbase |
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 Zebrastraat, a social experiment in which an entirely renovated site unites living, economy and culture, can also be found in Ghent.
Important museums in Ghent are the Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Museum of Fine Arts), with paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens, and many Flemish masters; the SMAK or Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (City Museum for Contemporary Art), with works of the 20th century, including Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol; and the Design Museum Gent with masterpieces of Victor Horta and Le Corbusier. The Huis van Alijn (House of the Alijn family) was originally a beguinage and is now a museum for folk art where theatre and puppet shows for children are presented. The Museum voor Industriële Archeologie en Textiel or MIAT displays the industrial strength of Ghent with recreations of workshops and stores from the 1800s and original spinning and weaving machines that remain from the time when the building was a weaving mill. The Ghent City Museum (Stadsmuseum, abbreviated STAM), is committed to recording and explaining the city's past and its inhabitants, and to preserving the present for future generations.
Restaurants and culinary traditions
In Ghent and other regions of East-Flanders, bakeries sell a donut-shaped bun called a "mastel" (plural "mastellen"), which is basically a bagel. "Mastellen" are also called "Saint Hubert bread", because on the Saint's feast day, which is 3 November, the bakers bring their batches to the early Mass to be blessed. Traditionally, it was thought that blessed mastellen immunized against rabies.
Other local delicacies are the praline chocolates from local producers such as Leonidas, the cuberdons or 'neuzekes' ('noses'), cone-shaped purple jelly-filled candies, 'babeluten' ('babblers'), hard butterscotch-like candy, and of course, on the more fiery side, the famous 'Tierenteyn', a hot but refined mustard that has some affinity to French 'Dijon' mustard.
Stoverij is a classic Flemish meat stew, preferably made with a generous addition of brown 'Trappist' (strong abbey beer) and served with French fries. 'Waterzooi' is a local stew originally made from freshwater fish caught in the rivers and creeks of Ghent, but nowadays often made with chicken instead of fish. It is usually served nouvelle-cuisine-style, and will be supplemented by a large pot on the side.
The city promotes a meat-free day on Thursdays called Donderdag Veggiedag with vegetarian food being promoted in public canteens for civil servants and elected councillors, in all city funded schools, and promotion of vegetarian eating options in town (through the distribution of "veggie street maps"). This campaign is linked to the recognition of the detrimental environmental effects of meat production, which the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has established to represent nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Ghent has the world's largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita.
The city is host to some big cultural events such as the Gentse Feesten, I Love Techno in Flanders Expo, "10 Days Off" musical festival, the International Film Festival of Ghent (with the World Soundtrack Awards) and the Gent Festival van Vlaanderen. Also, every five years, a huge botanical exhibition (Gentse Floraliën) takes place in Flanders Expo in Ghent, attracting numerous visitors to the city.
The Festival of Flanders had its 50th celebration in 2008. In Ghent it opens with the OdeGand City festivities that takes place on the second Saturday of September. Some 50 concerts take place in diverse locations throughout the medieval inner city and some 250 international artists perform. Other major Flemish cities hold similar events, all of which form part of the Festival of Flanders (Antwerp with Laus Polyphoniae; Bruges with MAfestival; Brussels with KlaraFestival; Limburg with Basilica, Mechelen and Brabant with Novecento and Transit).
The numerous parks in the city can also be considered to be tourist attractions. Most notably, Ghent boasts a nature reserve (Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen, 230 hectare) and a recreation park (Blaarmeersen, 87 hectares).
The port of Ghent, in the north of the city, is the third largest port of Belgium. It is accessed by the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, which ends near the Dutch port of Terneuzen on the Western Scheldt. The port houses, among others, big companies like ArcelorMittal, Volvo Cars, Volvo Trucks, Volvo Parts, Honda, and Stora Enso.
The Ghent University and a number of research oriented companies are situated in the central and southern part of the city, such as Ablynx, Innogenetics, Cropdesign, Bayer Cropscience.
As the largest city in East-Flanders, Ghent has many hospitals, schools and shopping streets. Flanders Expo, the biggest event hall in Flanders and the second biggest in Belgium, is also located in Ghent. Tourism is becoming a major employer in the local area.
As one of the largest cities in Belgium, Ghent has a highly developed transport system.
By car the city is accessible via two motorways:
- The E40: connects Ghent with Bruges and Ostend to the west, and with Brussels, Leuven and Liège to the east.
- The E17: connects Ghent with Sint-Niklaas and Antwerp to the north, and with Kortrijk and Lille to the south.
In addition Ghent also has two ringways:
- The R4: connects the outskirts of Ghent with each other and the surrounding villages, and also leads to the E40 and E17 roads.
- The R40: connects the different downtown quarters with each other, and provides access to the main avenues.
The municipality of Ghent comprises five railway stations:
- Gent-Sint-Pieters Station: an international railway station with connections to Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, Kortrijk, other Belgian towns and Lille. The station also offers a direct connection to Brussels Airport.
- Gent-Dampoort Station: an intercity railway station with connections to Sint-Niklaas, Antwerp, Kortrijk and Eeklo.
- Gentbrugge Station: a regional railway station in between the two main railway stations, Sint-Pieters and Dampoort.
- Wondelgem Station: a regional railway station with connections to Eeklo once an hour.
- Drongen Station: a regional railway station in the village of Drongen with connections to Bruges once an hour.
Ghent has an extensive network of public transport lines, operated by De Lijn.
- Line 1: Flanders Expo – Sint-Pieters-Station – Korenmarkt (city centre) – Evergem
- Line 4: (UZ Gent -) Sint-Pieters-Station – Muide – Korenmarkt (city centre) – Zuid – Moscou
- Line 21: (Zwijnaarde Hekers -) Zwijnaardebrug – UZ – Sint-Pieters-Station – Zonnestraat (city centre) – Zuid – Melle Leeuw
- Line 22: (Zwijnaarde Hekers -) Zwijnaardebrug – UZ – Sint-Pieters-Station – Zonnestraat (city centre) – Zuid – Gentbrugge
- Line 24: Sint-Pieters-Station – Korenmarkt – Zuid – Melle Leeuw
- Line 3: Mariakerke – Korenmarkt (city centre) – Dampoort-Station – Gentbrugge (formerly a trolleybus line; see picture below)
- Line 5: Van Beverenplein – Sint-Jacobs (city centre) – Zuid – UZ – Zwijnaarde
- Line 6: Watersportbaan – Zuid – Dampoort-Station – Wondelgem – Mariakerke
- Line 9: Mariakerke – Malem – Sint-Pieters-Station – Gentbrugge
- Line 17/18: Drongen – Korenmarkt (city centre) – Dampoort-Station – Oostakker
- Line 38/39: Blaarmeersen – Korenmarkt (city centre) – Dampoort-Station – Sint-Amandsberg
At Sint-Pieters-Station and the Zuid bus station there are several regional buses as well.
Ghent has the largest designated cyclist area in Europe, with nearly 400 kilometres (250 mi) of cycle paths and more than 700 one-way streets, where bikes are allowed to go against the traffic. It also boasts Belgium’s first cycle street, where cars are considered ‘guests’ and must stay behind cyclists.
In the Belgian first football division Ghent is represented by K.A.A. Gent, who became Belgian football champions for the first time in its history in 2015. Another Ghent football club is KRC Gent-Zeehaven, playing in the Belgian fourth division. A football match at the 1920 Summer Olympics was held in Ghent.
The Six Days of Flanders, a six-day track cycling race, is held annually, taking place in the Kuipke velodrome in Ghent. In road cycling, the city hosts the start and finish of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the traditional opening race of the cobbled classics season. It also lends its name to another cobbled classic, Gent–Wevelgem, although the race now starts in the nearby city of Deinze.
The city hosts an annual athletics IAAF event in the Flanders Sports Arena: the Indoor Flanders meeting. Two-time Olympic champion Hicham El Guerrouj set a still-standing world record of 3:48.45 in the mile run in 1997.
- Saint Bavo, patron saint of Ghent (589–654)
- Saint Livinus of Ghent, (580–657)
- Henry of Ghent, scholastic philosopher (c. 1217 – 1293)
- Jacob van Artevelde, statesman and political leader (c. 1290 – 1345)
- John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (1340–1399)
- Jan van Eyck, painter (c. 1385 – 1441)
- Hugo van der Goes, painter (c. 1440 – 1482)
- Alexander Agricola, Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance (1445 or 1446 – 15 August 1506)
- Jacob Obrecht, composer of the Renaissance (c. 1457 – 1505)
- Pedro de Gante, Franciscan missionary in Mexico (c. 1480 – 1572)
- Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Karel V, Charles Quint (1500–1558)
- Cornelius Canis, composer of the Renaissance, music director for the chapel of Charles V in the 1540s–1550s
- Daniel Heinsius, scholar of the Dutch Renaissance (1580–1655)
- Caspar de Crayer, painter (1582–1669)
- Josse Boutmy, composer, organist and harpsichordist (1697–1779)
- Frans de Potter, writer, (1834–1904)
- Jan Frans Willems, writer (1793–1846)
- Joseph Guislain, physician (1797–1860)
- Hippolyte Metdepenningen, lawyer and politician (1799–1881)
- Louis XVIII of France was exiled in Ghent during the Hundred Days in 1815
- Charles John Seghers, Jesuit clergyman and missionary (1839–1886)
- Victor Horta, Art Nouveau architect (1861–1947)
- Maurice Maeterlinck, poet, playwright, essayist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1862–1949)
- Frans Rens, writer, (1805–1874)
- Leo Baekeland, chemist and inventor of Bakelite (1863–1944)
- Pierre Louÿs, poet and romantic writer (1870–1925)
- Marthe Boël, feminist (1877–1956)
- Karel van de Woestijne, writer (1878–1929)
- Corneille Jean François Heymans, physiologist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1892–1968)
- Gustave Van de Woestijne, painter (1881–1947)
- Suzanne Lilar, essayist, novelist, and playwright (1901–1992)
- Willy De Clercq, liberal politician and European Commissioner (1927–2011)
- Jacques Rogge, former president of the IOC (born 1942)
- Patrick Sercu, Belgian track cyclist (born 1944)
- Soulwax & 2 Many DJs, electronic/rock band headed by David and Stephen Dewaele
- Gabriel Ríos, musician (born 1978)
- Cédric Van Branteghem, athlete (born 1979)
- Bradley Wiggins, British cyclist (born 1980)
- Kevin De Bruyne, professional footballer (born 1991)
- Gaelle Mys, Olympic gymnast (born 1991)
- Tiesj Benoot, cyclist (born 1994)
- Xavier Henry, shooting guard/small forward for the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers (born 1995)