Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts of Flanders)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by billmoy on April 9, 2004

This castle was built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace, who was the Count of Flanders. A visit here is historically interesting and has fun and macabre elements that kids and adults will enjoy. Much of the current appearance is due to reconstruction campaigns during the 20th Century. Only a few ruins remained before the rehabilitation, so the impression of a Crusaders stronghold in Syria is a bit of a romantic recreation and offers only the general idea of what the castle may have actually looked like. Besides its original purposes for military defense and for supporting lavish banquets and important assemblies, the castle was also used as a court of justice, mint, jail and cotton spinning mill.

There are subtly lit spaces reconstructed to look like the banqueting halls, reception rooms and living quarters of the Count’s House. The Historical Court and Weapon Museum includes a guillotine and execution swords amongst its collections. Displays of medieval weapons, armor, and other accessories are keenly lapped up by the youngsters. The Instruments of Torture Museum features displays of archaic and unspeakably horrible torture instruments and methods (thumbscrews anyone?). Look for the crypt and the hole to the dungeons below. Expect lots of tour groups at the castle, especially student groups.

The layout of the reconstructed castle is elliptical in plan, with 24 defensive towers surrounding the central gatehouse or Meestentoren. Climb up to take a walk around the perimeter of the castle ramparts and turrets, and also to the roof of the keep. Those not afraid of heights will be rewarded with splendid panoramic views of Ghent.

The Gravensteen is at the junction of the Leie and the Lieve, so there are some interesting vantage points from the outside. The old Vismarkt (Fish Market of 1689), based on a design by Artus Quellin, is across from the castle. The Baroque portico features sculptures by local sculptor Karel de Kezel representing Neptune, and also the Rivers Scheldt and Leie (Lys).

Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts of Flanders)
Sint-veerleplein 11
Ghent, Belgium

© LP 2000-2009