Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts) has been described as a "grim and muscular fortress". It was built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders, upon his return from the Crusades and was influenced by castles he had seen. After the 14th century it was no longer needed as a military stronghold and was used as a jail, law court and later a cotton mill. It was restored between 1894 and 1913 and is now a museum and tourist attraction. As we stood at ground level and looked up at this massive structure, it was not hard to imagine how this medieval castle represented a much harsher time, and today, in the middle of a bustling modern world, still boggles the mind.
This is a great place to wonder the grounds and the different rooms. We climbed up the walkways to the upper walls that overlooked Ghent and tried to imagine life in the Middle Ages. Justice was dispensed from this castle, harsh and unforgiving as evidenced by the instruments of torture and execution on display in the museum. Guilt or innocence was not relative in those days; the degree of punishment was the only thing that mattered.
Admission is under 5 Euro for adults- children under 12 free. Allow at least one hour to visit the grounds, the buildings, and the Museum of Court Paraphernalia, a unique collection of coercion and torture instruments used on prisoners in past centuries.
We visited the Lapidary Museum at the ruins of the former St. Bavo Abbey, Gandastraat #7. It is an incredible collection of historic pieces from renovated or demolished buildings, such as statutes, window trim and beautiful carved stone. There are impressive tombstones from the 13th – 19th centuries, including the tombstone of Hubert van Eyck, brother of Jan van Eyck who together painted the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. The pieces we saw were outside just passed an iron gate and there was no charge to walk through these wonderful pieces of history.
Boat Excursion on the Ghent Waterways: Dodging a rain shower, we timed our boat ride just perfectly. The sun had returned and there was no line waiting for a boat ride at the Graslei, the old Ghent port area. It was a 40-minute trip through the historic city from a totally new prospective traveling on both the Leie and the Lieve Rivers.
From river level we gazed up at the magnificent, Guild Houses along the Graslei and the Korenlei, the backside of the Castle of the Courts, the old fish market and the Meat Hall. The continually changing sights along the waterway were enchanting - the small shops and restaurants, a popular hostel and three unique towers at the turn-around point for the boat tour. On the ride back, we saw things we had missed earlier. It was so relaxing to just sit back and enjoy all the beautiful sites.