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Visiting the City Hall Belfry, Ghent, Belgium: a magnificent structure in an architectural jewel of a city

Updated on June 19, 2013
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
The belfry of Ghent (Belgium) as seen from the Cataloniëstraat during a blizzard.
The belfry of Ghent (Belgium) as seen from the Cataloniëstraat during a blizzard. | Source
Ghent Belfry
Ghent Belfry | Source
Emile Braunplein and Belfry, Ghent
Emile Braunplein and Belfry, Ghent | Source
 Reuleaux triangle on a window of the Belfry, Ghent
Reuleaux triangle on a window of the Belfry, Ghent | Source
Map location of Ghent, East Flanders province, Belgium
Map location of Ghent, East Flanders province, Belgium | Source

Reaching to the skies since the 14th century

This striking structure in Ghent, Belgium, is 95 metres tall (1) and dates from the 14th century. Being in Flanders, the land surrounding Ghent is very flat, and this only emphasizes a sense of the Belfry's height.

The Medieval part of the the structure is executed in stone. Its conspicuous spire is made of iron: an addition to the building dating from 1851.

Other features include roofing and corner turrets with several pinnacles; frequent Gothic window patterning, including recurring, triangular patterns (2). There is also a celebrated, 54-bell carillon.

Belfries are strongly symbolic of Flanders (in its greater sense, encompassing a significant area of northern France also) and the Belfry at Ghent is among the most splendid of Franders' many such structures.

It might be thought that such a Belfry in the Middle Ages would have had its military potential as a watchtower.

But, interestingly, it has been suggested also that in Medieval times the greater danger to cities came not from attacking armies but from the threat of fire. As a watchtower confronting fire hasards, it is known that Ghent's Belfry served this very significant use. Maybe a prosaic purpose for such an imposing structure, but nethertheless a very practical one!

Ghent is situated in the East Flanders (Dutch: Oost-Vlaanderen) province of Belgium's Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest).

June 20, 2013

Comparable Medieval buildings not as tall as the Belfry, Ghent

Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy | Source
Hagia Sophia under snow, Istambul
Hagia Sophia under snow, Istambul | Source


(1) Comparisons with other, tall, Medieval structures are revealing, and, significantly, Ghent's Belfry is taller than both the Leaning Tower of Pisa (58.4 metres, dating from 1372) and Hagia Sophia Basilica, Constantinople / Istambul (at 55 metres, dating from the year 537).

(2) This pattern is sometimes called a Reuleaux triangle.

Also worth seeing

In Ghent itself, other sights include the picturesque Graslei riverfront, the ornate Old Post Office Building, St. Bavo's Cathedral, and the Gravensteen castle.

Bruges (Dutch: Brugge ; distance: 48 kilometres) has numerous fine buildings, many of them Medieval, and constitutes another architectural gem of Flanders; like Ghent, the city is an extremely popular visitor destination.


How to get there: Brussels National Airport (Brussel-Nationaal-Luchthaven) , Belgium, where car hire is available, is the nearest large international airport to Ghent (distance: 67 kilometres). Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels National. The Belgian railroad company NMBS / SNCB maintains a service between Brussels and Ghent. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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