To our delight and surprise upon arriving in Ghent early on a Friday morning, we were greeted by a large outdoor market. We had followed the map and signs to the city’s underground public parking lot and there it was - literally above the parking area in a large square.
In the center of the Square overlooking the bustling market stands a large statue of Jacob Van Artevelde (1295-1345), Brewer of Ghent, Statesman and political leader during the One Hundred Years War between France and England. Van Artevelde was a man of many talents and skills. In 1338 he negotiated a commercial treaty with England and obtained recognition for Flemish neutrality. In 1340, he convinced his peers in the region to recognize Edward III as King of France and Feudal Lord of Flanders. Striking an impressive pose, Van Artevelde with his arm outstretched, is pointing in the direction of England.
We started walking very methodically, up one isle looking left and right, trying our best not to miss a single booth, if only to give it a quick glance, then down the next.
It appeared the most popular booths were selling food. There was an entire area that sold olives- every variety you could imagine. There were in large bowls to make choosing easier. After selection, the olives were gently placed in a container, weighed and sold.
The most popular item was fish- fresh fish- small fish-big-fish. There were at least three different fish markets. I was amazed that there was no fishy odor, probably because these fish were swimming in the ocean just hours before. Another popular area were the meat markets- sausages and chicken mainly and cheese, cheese, and more cheese. The fruit and vegetable stands were overflowing with all type of produce, some I could not recognize.
The bakery booth was one of the hardest to get passed. The aroma of the breads and sweets was a wonderful delight. It was quite obvious that the majority of the shoppers were local townspeople doing their routine shopping.
Some merchants had simply moved their merchandize out of a nearby store and into the square. There were ladies dresses, blouses and slacks, men’s shirts and ties, socks, and baby items. There were belts and shoes, and toiletries of all kinds. There was furniture, glassware, woodcarvings, and knick-knacks.
The only thing I didn’t see, believe it or not, was chocolate-the one thing I was really looking for. We were lost in a sea of shoppers, and for a little while, became apart of this wonderful tradition of the weekly market.
When we returned to the area after our daylong tour, the booths had been removed, the trash swept up and the only evidence of the market was the trucks packed with unsold goods waiting to leave. The statue of Jacob Van Artevelde stood alone in the Square.