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:
The first historical record of Lednice locality dates from 1222. At that time there stood a Gothic fort with courtyard, which was lent by Czech King Václav I to Austrian nobleman Sigfried Sirotek in 1249.
At the end of the 13th century the Liechtensteins, originally from Styria, became holders of all of Lednice and of nearby Mikulov. They gradually acquired land on both sides of the Moravian-Austrian border. Members of the family most often found fame in military service, during the Renaissance they expanded their estates through economic activity. From the middle of the 15th century members of the family occupied the highest offices in the land. However, the family’s position in Moravia really changed under the brothers Karel, Maximilian, and Gundakar of Liechtenstein. Through marriage Karel and Maximilian acquired the great wealth of the old Moravian dynasty of the Černohorskýs of Boskovice. At that time the brothers, like their father and grandfather, were Lutheran, but they soon converted to Catholicism, thus preparing the ground for their rise in politics. Particularly Karel, who served at the court of Emperor Rudolf II, became hetman of Moravia in 1608, and was later raised to princely status by King Matyas II and awarded the Duchy of Opava.
During the revolt of the Czech nobility he stood on the side of the Habsburgs, and took part in the Battle of White Mountain. After the uprising was defeated in 1620 he systematically acquired property confiscated from some of the rebels, and the Liechtensteins became the wealthiest family in Moravia, rising in status above the Žerotíns. Their enormous land holdings brought them great profits, and eventually allowed them to carry out their grandious building projects here in Lednice.
In the 16th century it was probably Hartmann II of Liechtenstein who had the old medieval water castle torn down and replaced with a Renaissance chateau. At the end of the 17th century the chateau was torn down and a Baroque palace was built, with an extensive formal garden, and a massive riding hall designed by Johann Bernard Fischer von Erlach that still stands in almost unaltered form.
In the mid-18th century the chateau was again renovated, and in 1815 its front tracts that had been part of the Baroque chateau were removed.
The chateau as it looks today dates from 1846-1858, when Prince Alois II decided that Vienna was not suitable for entertaining in the summer, and had Lednice rebuilt into a summer palace in the spirit of English Gothic. The hall on the ground floor would serve to entertain the European aristocracy at sumptuous banquets, and was furnished with carved wood ceilings, wooden panelling, and select furniture, surpassing anything of its kind in Europe.