The Gravensteen is a castle in Ghent originating from the Middle Ages. The name means 'castle of the counts' in Dutch. Arnulf I (918–965), Count of Flanders, was the first to fortify this place, building a medieval bastion on this high sand dune, naturally protected by the river Leie and its marshy banks. This bastion consisted of a central wooden building and several surrounding buildings, also in wood.

In the early 11th century, the wooden building was replaced by a stone residence, consisting of three large halls that made up three storeys, connected by a stone stairwell. The monumental stone staircase, the light openings, the fireplaces built into the walls and the latrines were signs of considerable luxury and comfort in those days. There was probably also a tower. This building phase, attributed to Count Baldwin IV (938–1035) or Count Baldwin V (1035–1067), coincided with reorganizations within the County of Flanders, as a result of which the Gravensteen became the centre of a viscounty, a regional administrative unit.

A century later, the motte-and-bailey castle was constructed, consisting of a raised earthwork (the motte) and an enclosed courtyard (the bailey). Motte-and-bailey castles were quite widespread in the 11th and 12th centuries. A moat was dug around the castle, and the dug-up earth was used to create a mound around the stone central building. Consequently, the ground floor became the cellar, and the second floor became the new ground floor. In 1176 a fire ravaged both the main castle and the buildings on the bailey.

An inscription in Latin above the entrance gate states that Count Philip (1168–1191) built this castle in 1180. The motte hill was made higher and wider. The central building became a mighty donjon, standing at about 30 metres tall, with two basement floors and two large storeys above ground, the lower of which was fitted out with a brick barrel-vaulted ceiling. The upper hall was purely residential. The entrance gate to the count’s fortress was reinforced with an outer gate, connecting to the stone enclosure, which had projecting turrets with machicolations and battlements for defence.

Around the same time, the entire bailey was given a thorough overhaul and became the home of the new stone Sint-Veerlekerk (Saint Pharaildis Church), which was consecrated on 30th June of the year 1216. The old wooden buildings surrounding the main castle on the motte were also replaced by stone buildings. Remnants of this are still visible to this day in the eastern outbuilding and in the count's residence. Today, the stables are among the best-preserved annexes. A row of columns, decorated with beautiful leaf-patterned capitals and corbels, divides the vaulted space into two naves.

Later the castle was the seat of both the Council of Flanders, the county’s highest court, and the feudal court of the Oudburg, a regional bench of aldermen. The Council’s competence included serious criminal offences and lese-majesty. New buildings were erected for both courts: courtrooms, clerks’ offices and dungeons. Victims were detained in the semi-subterranean rooms, preventively or during their trials, in atrocious circumstances. They were sometimes subjected to gruesome torture in order to make them confess. Typically they would only be in preventive custody a few days, just prior to their trials, but there were horrifying exceptions.

The count’s minting workshop was moved to the castle around 1353. In 1491, however, the city of Ghent lost its minting activities because of its inhabitants’ rebellious attitude towards Maximilian I of Austria (1459-1519). Today, only the name of the street Geldmunt (“money mint”) reflects this activity.

Over the course of the 18th century, the Gravensteen gradually lost its function as the administrative centre. Several of the vacated buildings were publicly sold. Engineer Jean-Baptiste Brismaille bought the former motte castle and converted it into an industrial complex. The existing buildings now housed cotton mills, a metal construction workshop and some fifty working-class families. At the gate, Brismaille built an executive residence. By the second half of the 19th century, the outdated buildings were no longer in line with safety regulations, which had become stricter, so the businesses moved to the outskirts of the city. The Gravensteen was slated to be demolished and sold as a building lot. The development plan included tearing down the castle, levelling the motte plateau and building two roads right across the plot. Fortunately, the project fell through due to a lack of interest.

Starting in 1865 the City of Ghent, together with the Belgian State, began systematically buying back the buildings on the former motte from private individuals. This initiative was prompted by the actions of a small group of Ghent’s citizens, fostering a spirit of historic preservation, both in politics and in public opinion. In 1888 the dismantling works began, and practically everything that was not made from Tournai limestone was demolished, laying bare the impressive remains of the medieval castle. Restoration work started in 1893, following the example of French restorer Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The architect in charge, Jozef De Waele, opted for a romantic interpretation of the castle back in the time of Count Philip of Alsace.

In 1907 the restored parts of the Gravensteen were opened to the public. Since the 1913 World Fair in Ghent, numerous cultural activities, events and parties have been held at the Gravensteen, which is now the city’s single most important tourist attraction.

References:

Comments

Your name



Address

Geldmunt 18, Ghent, Belgium
See all sites in Ghent

Details

Founded: 1180
Category: Castles and fortifications in Belgium

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Dmitrii Malyshev (2 years ago)
You must take the audio guide in English! That thing is amazing! The story of the castle, the people who lived there is told in a fascinating manner, really artistic. The place itself is less attractive should you compare it to those in Czech Republic for example.
SAS (2 years ago)
In Ghent this castle is must go place. It is one of the best preserved middle age castle. It has audio guide in different languages. Entrance was 10 euro and audio guide is included. It has a nice story as well. Children friendly, but I don't think they are facilities for wheelchair access.
Cherie Amour Stanyer (2 years ago)
Amazing and one of the most intact castles I’ve visited in Europe. Very interactive and immersive, makes you think and imagine about the medieval times! I highly recommend it! Ghent overall is very lovely and my number one favourite place in Belgium
Sean Broughton (2 years ago)
This is well worth a visit if you're in Gent. There is a serious amount of interesting history to discover. The audio guide seems to divide opinion a little bit but I found it funny and engaging. It seems to appeal to an English sense of humour.
Nimrod Lavi (2 years ago)
The castle here is a great sightseeing location. The guided audio tour to the castle is designed great so you don't need any human explanations on just about anything you see in the castle. I would recommend coming in a warm day as some of the views were closed because of icy conditions when we were there.
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Glimmingehus

Glimmingehus is the best preserved medieval stronghold in Scandinavia. It was built 1499-1506, during an era when Scania formed a vital part of Denmark, and contains many defensive arrangements of the era, such as parapets, false doors and dead-end corridors, 'murder-holes' for pouring boiling pitch over the attackers, moats, drawbridges and various other forms of death traps to surprise trespassers and protect the nobles against peasant uprisings. The lower part of the castle's stone walls are 2.4 meters (94 inches) thick and the upper part 1.8 meters (71 inches).

Construction was started in 1499 by the Danish knight Jens Holgersen Ulfstand and stone-cutter-mason and architect Adam van Düren, a North German master who also worked on Lund Cathedral. Construction was completed in 1506.

Ulfstand was a councillor, nobleman and admiral serving under John I of Denmark and many objects have been uncovered during archeological excavations that demonstrate the extravagant lifestyle of the knight's family at Glimmingehus up until Ulfstand's death in 1523. Some of the most expensive objects for sale in Europe during this period, such as Venetian glass, painted glass from the Rhine district and Spanish ceramics have been found here. Evidence of the family's wealth can also be seen inside the stone fortress, where everyday comforts for the knight's family included hot air channels in the walls and bench seats in the window recesses. Although considered comfortable for its period, it has also been argued that Glimmingehus was an expression of "Knighthood nostalgia" and not considered opulent or progressive enough even to the knight's contemporaries and especially not to later generations of the Scanian nobility. Glimmingehus is thought to have served as a residential castle for only a few generations before being transformed into a storage facility for grain.

An order from Charles XI to the administrators of the Swedish dominion of Scania in 1676 to demolish the castle, in order to ensure that it would not fall into the hands of the Danish king during the Scanian War, could not be executed. A first attempt, in which 20 Scanian farmers were ordered to assist, proved unsuccessful. An additional force of 130 men were sent to Glimmingehus to execute the order in a second attempt. However, before they could carry out the order, a Danish-Dutch naval division arrived in Ystad, and the Swedes had to abandon the demolition attempts. Throughout the 18th century the castle was used as deposit for agricultural produce and in 1924 it was donated to the Swedish state. Today it is administered by the Swedish National Heritage Board.

On site there is a museum, medieval kitchen, shop and restaurant and coffee house. During summer time there are several guided tours daily. In local folklore, the castle is described as haunted by multiple ghosts and the tradition of storytelling inspired by the castle is continued in the summer events at the castle called "Strange stories and terrifying tales".