The 91-metre-tall belfry is one of three medieval towers that overlook the old city centre of Ghent, the other two belonging to Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas" Church. Its height makes it the tallest belfry in Belgium. The belfry of Ghent, together with its attached buildings, belongs to the set of belfries of Belgium and France inscribed on UNESCO"s World Heritage List.
Construction of the tower began in 1313 after a design by master mason Jan van Haelst. His plans are still preserved in the Ghent City Museum. After continuing intermittently through wars, plagues and political turmoil, the work reached completion in 1380. It was near the end of this period that the gilded dragon, brought from Bruges, assumed its place atop the tower. The uppermost parts of the building have been rebuilt several times, in part to accommodate the growing number of bells.
The local architect Lieven Cruyl made a design for a Baroque spire in 1684. His design was not implemented and in 1771 the campanile was finished with a spire after a design by architect Louis "t Kindt. A neo-Gothic spire of cast iron was placed on the tower in 1851. This iron spire was demolished between 1911-1913 and replaced by the current stone spire. The works were carried out under the direction of Valentin Vaerwijck whose designs were inspired by the original design from the 14th century.
Through the centuries, the belfry served not only as a bell tower to announce the time and various warnings, but also as a fortified watchtower and the place where the documents evidencing the municipal privileges were kept.
The bells in the belfry originally only served a religious purpose. Gradually the bells got a secular role by regulating daily life in the growing medieval city. The primary bell in the tower, called Roland, was also used to warn the citizens of Ghent of an approaching enemy or a battle won. After subduing Ghent, which had risen up against him, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor ordered the removal of Roland.
The rectangular hall adjoining the belfry was built to headquarter the affairs of the cloth trade that made the city rich during the Middle Ages. Inside, woollens were officially inspected and measured; transactions were negotiated. As the cloth industry lost importance, the hall drew new occupants, including a militia guild and a fencing school. The cloth hall"s construction started in 1425 and ended 20 years later, with only seven of eleven planned bays completed. In 1903, the structure was extended by four bays in accordance with the original plan.
A small annex dating from 1741, called the Mammelokker, served as the entrance and guard"s quarters of the city jail that occupied part of the old cloth hall from 1742 to 1902. The name refers to the sculpture of Roman Charity poised high above the front doorway. It depicts the Roman legend regarding a prisoner called Cimon. Cimon was sentenced to death by starvation, but survived and ultimately gained his freedom thanks to his daughter Pero, a wet nurse who secretly breastfed him during her visits. Her act of selflessness impressed officials and won her father"s release. The term "mammelokker" translates as "breast sucker".References:
From its origin as a small stronghold built by the ancient Illyrian tribe Dalmatae, becoming a royal castle that was the seat of many Croatian kings, to its final development as a large fortress during the Ottoman wars in Europe, Klis Fortress has guarded the frontier, being lost and re-conquered several times. Due to its location on a pass that separates the mountains Mosor and Kozjak, the fortress served as a major source of defense in Dalmatia, especially against the Ottoman advance, and has been a key crossroad between the Mediterranean belt and the Balkan rear.
Since Duke Mislav of the Duchy of Croatia made Klis Fortress the seat of his throne in the middle of the 9th century, the fortress served as the seat of many Croatia"s rulers. The reign of his successor, Duke Trpimir I, the founder of the Croatian royal House of Trpimirović, is significant for spreading Christianity in the Duchy of Croatia. He largely expanded the Klis Fortress, and in Rižinice, in the valley under the fortress, he built a church and the first Benedictine monastery in Croatia. During the reign of the first Croatian king, Tomislav, Klis and Biograd na Moru were his chief residences.
In March 1242 at Klis Fortress, Tatars who were a constituent segment of the Mongol army under the leadership of Kadan suffered a major defeat while in pursuit of the Hungarian army led by King Béla IV. After their defeat by Croatian forces, the Mongols retreated, and Béla IV rewarded many Croatian towns and nobles with 'substantial riches'. During the Late Middle Ages, the fortress was governed by Croatian nobility, amongst whom Paul I Šubić of Bribir was the most significant. During his reign, the House of Šubić controlled most of modern-day Croatia and Bosnia. Excluding the brief possession by the forces of Bosnian King, Tvrtko I, the fortress remained in Hungaro-Croatian hands for the next several hundred years, until the 16th century.
Klis Fortress is probably best known for its defense against the Ottoman invasion of Europe in the early 16th century. Croatian captain Petar Kružić led the defense of the fortress against a Turkish invasion and siege that lasted for more than two and a half decades. During this defense, as Kružić and his soldiers fought without allies against the Turks, the military faction of Uskoks was formed, which later became famous as an elite Croatian militant sect. Ultimately, the defenders were defeated and the fortress was occupied by the Ottomans in 1537. After more than a century under Ottoman rule, in 1669, Klis Fortress was besieged and seized by the Republic of Venice, thus moving the border between Christian and Muslim Europe further east and helping to contribute to the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The Venetians restored and enlarged the fortress, but it was taken by the Austrians after Napoleon extinguished the republic itself in 1797. Today, Klis Fortress contains a museum where visitors to this historic military structure can see an array of arms, armor, and traditional uniforms.