Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe.
Around 650 Saint Amand founded two abbeys in Ghent: the Saint Peter Abbey and the 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.
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 is thought that blessed mastellen immunize against rabies.
Other local delicacies are the praline chocolates from local producers such as Leonidas and Dascalides, the '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.
- Saint Bavo Cathedral is the seat of the diocese of Ghent. It is named for Saint Bavo of Ghent. The building is based upon the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, a primarily wooden construction; it was consecrated in 942 by Transmarus, Bishop of Tournai and Noyon. Traces of this original structure are evident in the cathedral's crypt. The chapel was subsequently expanded in the Romanesque style in 1038. Some traces of this phase of expansion are still evident in the present day crypt. In the subsequent period from the 14th through 16th centuries, nearly continuous expansion projects in the Gothic style were executed on the structure. Construction was considered complete June 7, 1569. In 1539, as a result of the rebellion against Charles V, the old Abbey of St. Bavo was dissolved. Its abbot and monks went on to become canons in a Chapter that was attached to what then became the Church of Saint Bavo. When the Diocese of Ghent was founded in 1559, the church became its Cathedral. The church of Saint Bavo was also the site of the baptism of Charles V.
- The Gravensteen The present castle was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace and was modeled after the crusaders castles that Philip of Alsace encountered while he participated in the second crusade. Before its construction, there stood a wooden castle on the same location, presumably built in the ninth century. The castle served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until they abandoned it in the 14th century. The castle was then used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard and the stones of the walls were used to erect other buildings. At one time it even served as a factory. At the end of the 19th century, the castle was scheduled to be demolished. In 1885 the city of Ghent bought the castle and started a renovation project. The newly built houses were removed and the walls and dungeon were restored to their original condition. This renovation has been the subject of discussion. People argue whether the castle can still be considered authentic. Despite these discussions, the Gravensteen attracts huge numbers of tourists. The castle has been repaired enough to allow people to travel through it and climb on top. It is still partly surrounded by the moat. Inside is a museum with various torture devices (and a guillotine) that were historically used in Ghent.
- St. Nicholas' Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent. Begun in the early 13th century as a replacement for an earlier Romanesque church, construction continued through the rest of the century in the local Scheldt Gothic style (named after the nearby river). Typical of this style is the use of blue-gray stone from the Tournai area, the single large tower above the crossing, and the slender turrets at the building's corners. Built in the old trade center of Ghent next to the bustling Korenmarkt (Wheat Market), St. Nicholas' Church was popular with the guilds whose members carried out their business nearby. The guilds had their own chapels which were added to the sides of the church in the 14th and 15th centuries. The central tower, which was funded in part by the city, served as an observation post and carried the town bells until the neighboring belfry of Ghent was built. These two towers, along with the Saint Bavo Cathedral, still define the famous medieval skyline of the city centre.
- The Museum of Fine Arts is situated at the East side of the Citadelpark. The museum holds a large permanent collection of art from the Middle Ages until mid 20th Century. The collection focuses on Flemish Art (Southern Netherlands) but also has several European works, including paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and Peter Paul Rubens. It also has a large amount of sculptures. Next to its permanent collection the museum organises temporary exhibitions (approximately 2 every year). The building was designed by city architect Charles van Rysselberghe around 1900. In 2007 the museum reopened after four years of restoration.
- The Belfry. The 91-metre-high belfry of Ghent is one of three medieval towers that overlook the old city centre. Through the centuries, it has served not only as a bell tower to announce the time and various warnings, but also as a fortified watchtower and town treasury. Construction of the tower began in 1313 to the design of master mason Jan van Haelst, whose plans are still preserved in a museum. After continuing intermittently through wars, plagues and political turmoil, the work reached completion in 1380. It was near the end of this period that the gilded dragon, brought from Bruges, assumed its place atop the tower. The uppermost parts of the building have been rebuilt several times, in part to accommodate the growing number of bells.