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GHENT, BELGIUM

Related:BELGIUM

Brugges
Brussels

Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest 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. Today it is a busy city with a port and a university.

The municipality comprises the city of Ghent proper and the towns of Afsnee, Desteldonk, Drongen, Gentbrugge, Ledeberg, Mariakerke, Mendonk, Oostakker, Sint-Amandsberg, Sint-Denijs-Westrem, Sint-Kruis-Winkel, Wondelgem and Zwijnaarde. With 237,250 inhabitants in the beginning of 2008, 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 sp.a, Open VLD and Pro Gent.

Every year the ten day long "Ghent Festival" is held . About 2 million visitors attend every year.
Archeological evidence shows human presence in the region of the confluence of Scheldt and Lys going back as far as the Stone Age and the Iron Age. Most historians believe that the older name for Ghent, 'Ganda' is derived from the Celtic word 'ganda' which means confluence. There are no written records of the Roman period but archeological research confirms that the region of Ghent was further inhabited.

When the Franks invaded the Roman territories (from the end of the 4th century and well into the 5th century) they brought their language with them and Celtic and Latin were replaced by Old Dutch.

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.

The city recovered and flourished from the 11th century on. Until the 13th century Ghent was the biggest city in Europe after Paris; it was bigger than London, Cologne or Moscow. Within the city walls lived up to 65,000 people. Today, 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 inundated. These richly grassed 'meersen' were ideally suited for herding sheep, the wool of which was used for making cloth. In fact, Ghent was, during the Middle Ages, the most important 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. The trade with England suffered significantly during the Hundred Years' War.

The city recovered in the 14th century, while 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 center of political and social importance in the Low Countries started to shift from Flanders to Brabant, although Ghent would continue to play an important role.
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 around the neck; since this incident, the people of Ghent have been called "Stroppendragers" . The Saint Bavo Abbey was abolished, torn down, and replaced with a fortress for Spanish troops. Only a small portion of the abbey was spared demolition.

The late 16th and the 17th century brought devastation because of the Religious wars. At one time Ghent was a Calvinistic republic, but eventually the Spanish army reinstated Catholicism. The wars ended the role of Ghent as a center of international importance. In 1745 the city was captured by French forces during the War of the Austrian Succession before being returned to Austria following the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

In the 18th and 19th century the textile industry flourished again in Ghent. In 1800 Lieven Bauwens, having smuggled the plans out of England, introduced the first mechanical weaving machine on the European continent.

Ghent was also the site of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent which formally ended the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States of America. After the battle of Waterloo Ghent became a part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands for 15 years. In this period Ghent established its own university (1817) 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.

July 2003

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