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April 9, 2004
The Belfort (or belfry) was constructed from around 1300 to 1338 following a plan credited to master mason Jan van Haelst and has undergone various renovations over the years. The current stone spire of 1913 was designed by Valentijn Vaerwijck. It is topped with a gilded copper dragon, the third one to stand on this lofty perch over the years (its two predecessors are shells of their former selves but rest comfortably in the museum of the tower).
Upon entering the tower you will notice the newly remodeled “secret” room, which was used to store the significant town documents. There are four figures that represent the all-important lookout guards of the Belfort. Climb up some stairs and have a look around the small museum of the tower. Take the elevator up to the next level, where you can see the collection of 53 carillon bells. Ride the elevator up one more level to see the carillon drum and the clock mechanism (the clocks on each of the four faces still function). Then climb up to the next level, which houses the carillon. Finally climb up to the lookout level at the top. The outdoor views of the town from these heights are staggering and you will be sure to be snapping your camera many times.
There are scheduled daily guided tours of the Belfort during the warmer months if you do not want to ascend on your own. The use of a local guide involves no additional charge, and you will get lots of inside information about the rich history of the Belfort and Ghent overall. Conveniently, the local tourism office is located in the crypt below. Take a peek in here and see the squat columns straining to support the immense loads of the tower.
Back on terra firma, you will notice the adjacent Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) with its construction beginning in 1425 after plans by master builder Simon van Assche. This structure was only completed in 1903, but it serves as a visual horizontal base for the Belfort. The small Mammelokker construction was built in 1741 to access the town jail, which was on the ground floor of the Lakenhalle. The curious relief above the Mammelokker entrance depicts the Roman legend of Cimon being breast-fed by daughter Pero to get around his death sentence of starvation. Not far is the big bad bell named Roeland or “the Great Triumphant One” (the Belgians like names and further nicknames for their big bells), which was formerly in the Belfort until it cracked in 1914. Next to Roeland is the gracefully haunting “Fountain of Kneeling People” (1892) by local sculptor Georges Minne.
From journal Bill in Belgium - GHENT
Ayr, Scotland, United Kingdom
October 26, 2003
Ghent’s prosperity depended on its Charters. Rulers in the early Middle Ages often gave powerful cities rights and privileges, such as the right to organize markets. In return, the counts received money or soldiers for their wars to expand their territories. Each new count or duke when sworn in had to promise to uphold the city’s existing privileges.
The city’s prosperity depending on keeping the Charters secure. It needed a medieval version of a bank vault. In the Belfort Tower they had it. Two large doors each with three locks protected the secret or treasury room containing the Charters. Just as in modern times when more than one finger is need to press the nuclear trigger Ghent had similar multi-stage security. Different gilds held different keys. Therefore, the treasury only opened in the presence of the main representatives of these powerful leaders of the economic life of the city.
Using the tower as the command headquarters of the city's militia, and as a watchtower increased the security further. The militia occupied two floors. They must have been fit from the constant climbing of stairs. The clanging of the bells in case of fire or attacks from a foreign army alerted the population to danger.
The site itself has had previous buildings on the site. On entering we studied excavations of these on the ground floor. Four symbolic stone soldiers also stood to attention there. Three were new but the other one was suffering from weather damage from standing guard dutifully at a top corner of the tower for centuries. Copies of the originals guarding the other corners had replaced his companions. Four real soldiers also stood guard on top of the tower. Every hour, they had to blow their horns to show their alertness.
Up one floor the three treasury boxes are on display. Present also is a gilded copper dragon. Originally he had a prime position at the top of the spire but a modern replica has replaced him.
Taking the lift to the top we were able to see the bells. The apparatus whirred into action and the bells began to sound. The Carillon (or set of Bells) is part of the Flemish tradition of bell music. In 1914, one of the bells when electrically tested burst. This bell, the 'Triomfant', now stands in the square next to the tower.
Close trading ties existed with England - England supplied the wool for the Flemish weavers. To honour the English king Edward II, on completion of the tower in 1338, the bells rang loudly, long and merrily for him.
Moving to the surrounding balcony we had a splendid view of the city with its competing towers, waterways, castle and noble town hall.
From journal Ghent – showcase of Flemish Wealth & Architecture
by Re Carroll
Abbotsford, British Columbia
September 20, 2000
From journal Enjoying Ghent
Green Bay, Wisconsin
October 11, 2000
From journal Stop over in Ghent
Moscow, Moskva, Russia
May 13, 2013
From journal cultural and political center of Europe