|GHENT: The Gravensteen (Castle of the counts)|
St Bavo Cathedral
Graslei - Koornlei
The GRAVENSTEEN is the Dutch name for the 'castle of the count'. The counts of Flanders had castles built in the principal cities of the county. Because they had to maintain law and order, they continuously had to move from one city to the other. Therefore, they disposed of a castle in most cities where they wanted to stay for a few months. The castle of Ghent is the only one which survived the centuries more or less intact.
Archeological excavations have proved that three fortified castles constructed in wood must have stood on the site of today's Gravensteen. Already around the year 1000 the first stone castle must have been erected here. Parts of this, such as the chimney and the fireplace, can still be found in the walls of the lower floors of the main tower.
The Gravensteen, like we know it today, has been constructed by Fillips of Alsasse who was count of Flanders between 1157 and 1191. He took part in one of the crusades and died during the siege of Akko in the Holy Land. The opening in the form of a cross, right above the main entrance gate, proves that he already had taken part in a crusade when the Castle was built around 1177-1178.The Gravensteen functioned as the center of the Count's power during the early Middle-Ages. This is somewhat symbolized by the main keep or 'donjon' (tower) from where one can have a panoramic view over the city. Next to the castle lies the Veerleplein (Veerle square), the place where public executions took place. The Gravensteen has been used in later times for different purposes. After the counts moved to more comfortable mansions in the later centuries, it was used as the Mint and later as the main prison of Gent. In the nineteenth century a cotton plant was installed here. In the inner court little houses where built for the textile workers of the plant.
Today, the Gravensteen has been beautifully restored. It is still partially surrounded by the medieval moat. It can be visited all through the year. Inside of the rooms is a museum about the history of prison life and organization, with a very instructive (?) collection of medieval torture instruments.
Sint-Veerleplein Tel: 09/225.93.06