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Visiting the Old Post Office, Ghent, Belgium: fine, towered structure now serving the maxim of John Kenneth Galbraith?

Updated on June 3, 2013
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Old Post Office, Ghent
Old Post Office, Ghent | Source
Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium | Source
Map location of Ghent, East Flanders province, Belgium
Map location of Ghent, East Flanders province, Belgium | Source

Too good for the mere public!

At 52 metres, the pinnacled clock tower of this building is a major contributor to the distinctness of the city of Ghent's skyline. Built as a Post Office, the structure was begun in 1898, and completed in 1910. Ghent is in many ways a fine city, with many venerable and photogenic buildings in traditional style, and this particular stone structure may certainly be counted as one of these.

Substantially the work of architect Louis Cloquet (1849-1920)(1), the building combines neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance style influences and is also sometimes referred to as demonstrating Louis XIV-style. Its gabling displays arms from Belgian provinces. As well as its gigantic, main tower, the structure also has several, smaller towers.

The building is sometimes illuminated at night (see main photo, above), to impressive effect.

It was Canadian-born Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith who coined the maxim, 'private affluence and public squalor' to describe the phenomenon of a rich country refusing to maintain public structures that befit due service to its citizens. Applied here, 'squalor' would be a severe over-statement. But with this building having been in existence for 100 years as a building associated with an abiding public service, the powers that be decided that this fine structure should primarily serve the needs of private wealth instead, and this aspect of J K Galbraith's maxim does seem to apply. Accordingly, in 1998 the building was sold off and divided into condominiums and retail units. The structure must now be known as the Old Post Office (Dutch: Oud Postkantoor). (You see, mere members of the public are supposed to be served in buildings that exude functionality only!)(2) Oh well. Sic transit gloria mundi. However, the building has retained the status of a heritage monument.

The Old Post Office building is situated at Korenmarkt 16, Ghent (Dutch: Gent), in the East Flanders (Dutch: Oost-Vlaanderen) province of Belgium's Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest).

June 3, 2013


(1) Architect Cloquet was also responsible for other structures in Ghent, including Gent Sint Pieters railroad station, which, like this building, was prepared for the Ghent Universal and International Exhibition (Dutch: Wereldtentoonstelling) of 1913.

(2) Canadians may recall disaster averted a number of years ago when the priceless and historic Canada House, London, England, overlooking Trafalgar Square, narrowly avoided being sold off by the Mulroney Government.

Also worth seeing

In Ghent itself, other sights include the picturesque Graslei riverfront onto which part of the Old Post Office Building faces, the city hall's belfry, St. Bavo's Cathedral, and the Gravensteen castle.


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. Please 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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