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Atomium building in Brussels

Atomium Belgium

The Atomium is situated in Heysel, the northern downtown of Brussels. The design is based on a crystallized molecule of iron magnified 150 milliard times.

Welcome to Ghent

The name Gent, in English Ghent, came from the Classic Latin term Candia or Gandia meaning land lock created by the confluence of two rivers. This in turn is the union of the Celtic term "Cand" and Latin "ia" meaning land.

Ghent is the capital city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the River Scheldt and River Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe. Today it is a busy city with a port and a university.

The municipality comprises the city of Ghent proper and the towns of Afsnee, Desteldonk, Drongen, Gentbrugge, Ledeberg, Mariakerke,Mendonk, Oostakker, Sint-Amandsberg, Sint-Denijs-Westrem, Sint-Kruis-Winkel, Wondelgem and Zwijnaarde. With 240,191 inhabitants in the beginning of 2009, Ghent is Belgium's third largest municipality by number of inhabitants (after Brussels and Antwerp). The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 1,205 km2 (465 sq mi) and has a total population of 594,582 as of 1 January 2008, which ranks it as the fourth most populous in Belgium after Brussels, Antwerp and Liege urban areas.

On the right, the Coat of arms of Ghent.

Wapens of Ghent

History

Origins

Archaeological evidence shows human presence in the region of the confluence of rivers Scheldt and Leie going back as far as the Stone Age and the Iron Age. There are no written records of the Roman period but archaeological research confirms that the region of Ghent was further inhabited.

When the Franks invaded the Roman territories (from the end of the 4th century and well into the 5th century) they brought their language with them and Celtic and Latin were replaced by Old Dutch. Around 650 Saint Amand founded two abbeys in Ghent: the Saint Peter Abbey and the St. Bavo's Abbey.

On the right, old houses on the Leie river.

Houses on the Leie river at Ghent

From that time, the city grew from several nuclei including the abbeys and a commercial centre. Around 800 Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, appointed Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne, as abbot of both abbeys.

Middle Ages

Gravensteen

In 851 and 879 the city was attacked and plundered twice by the Vikings. Then, the city recovered and flourished from the 11th century on. Until the 13th century Ghent was the biggest city in Europe after Paris, it was bigger than London, Cologne or Moscow. Within the city walls had lived up to 65,000 people. Today, the belfry and the towers of the Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas' Church are just a few examples of the skyline of this period.

The wool industry, originally established at Bruges, created the first European industrialized zone in Ghent in the High Middle Ages. The mercantile zone was so highly developed that wool had to be imported from Scotland and England.

Left, the Gravensteen built in 9th century.

Ghent was the birthplace of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Later, the trade with England (but not Scotland) suffered significantly during the Hundred Years' War.

The city recovered in the 14th century, while Flanders was united with neighboring provinces under the Dukes of Burgundy.

High taxes led to a rebellion and eventually the Battle of Gavere in 1453, in which Ghent suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of Philip the Good.

Around this time the center of political and social importance in the Low Countries started to shift from Flanders (Bruges–Ghent) to Brabant (Antwerp–Brussels), although Ghent would continue to play an important role.

To the right, the old city centre with Saint-Nicholas Church in the middle, constructed during 13th to 15th century.

Old city centre Ghent

In 1500 Juana of Castile gave birth to Charles V, who became Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Although native to Ghent, he punished the city after the 1539 Revolt of Ghent and obliged the city's nobles to walk in front of the emperor barefoot with a noose (Dutch: strop) around the neck. Since this incident, the people of Ghent have been called "Stroppendragers" (noose bearers). As a punishment the Saint Bavo Abbey was abolished, torn down, and replaced with a fortress for Spanish troops. Only a small portion of the abbey was spared demolition.

16th Century till today

Map of Ghent

The late 16th and the 17th century brought lots of devastation to the city because of the Religious wars. At one time Ghent was a Calvinistic republic, but eventually the Spanish army reinstated Catholicism.

The wars ended the role of Ghent as a center of international importance. In 1745 the city was captured by French forces during the War of the Austrian Succession before being returned to Austria following the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

In the 18th and 19th century the textile industry flourished again in Ghent. In 1800 Lieven Bauwens, having smuggled the plans out of England, introduced the first mechanical weaving machine on the European continent.

The textile industry exists still today although its years of glory are long gone.

To the left, map of Ghent from 1775.

Ghent was also the site of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent which formally ended the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States. After the battle of Waterloo Ghent became a part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands for 15 years. In this period Ghent established its own university (1817) and a new connection to the sea (1824–27) by the channel entering the Westerschelde in the mid of the road from Antwerp to the see.

De Graslei Ghent

Above, the Graslei which is one of the most scenic places in Ghent's old city centre. The bridge to the right is the Sint-Michielsbrug, the building on the corner is the former postal office and in the distance to the right the three towers of Ghent can be seen.

Ghent is also the city where in 19th century the first Belgian trade-unions were created. It is also the place where the Belgian Socialist Party was established by Edward Anseele although; he was first time elected to the parliament in Liege.

After the Belgian Revolution in 1830, with the loss of port access to the sea for more than a decade, the local economy collapsed again as well as the first Belgian trade-union originated in Ghent.

Then again things got better. In 1913 there was a World Exhibition in Ghent and as a preparation for these festivities, the Sint-Pieters railway station was completed in 1912. Sint Peters station today - on the left.

Sint Peters Station Ghent