As one of the ‘Belfries of Belgium and France’, the Belfry of Ghent is a recognised Unesco World Heritage site. The 300 feet (91 meters) high tower was completed in the 14th century. It’s the middle one of the Three Towers of Ghent, located in between the St. Nicholas Church and the St. Bavo Cathedral. The Ghent Belfry is one of the most important landmarks of the city, one that has witnessed centuries of Ghent history. This monument is also steeped in symbolism. Let’s briefly explore its history before … on your visit.
The fire-breathing dragon
A dragon statue tops the Belfry of Ghent ever since 1377. It wasn’t just the fierce mascot that watched over the city but also the guard of the city privileges which were kept in a chest at the Belfry for over a century.
It’s a centuries-old tradition that, for special celebrations, the dragon breaths fire. Examples are the baptism of the soon-to-be Emperor Charles V in the year 1500 and the visit of William, the Prince of Orange to Ghent. For 10 days last year, in 2018, the dragon set the sky on fire once again to celebrate the 175 edition of the Ghent Festival and we consider ourselves lucky to having witnessed this unique event.
The bell named Roland
Before the Belfry of Ghent was finished, the St. Nicholas Church was the city’s watch tower. In 1442, the Ghent Belfry took over this important function. When a fire was detected by one of the watchmen or when an enemy approached, the alarm bell alerted the citizens. That bell was named Roland (Klokke Roeland in Flemish). Soon the bell also chimed on set times in order to regulate city life.
In the 17th century, Roland was melted and turned into a carillon. The largest bell, the Great Triumphant, was named Roland after the first alarm bell. Unfortunately, shortly after the carillon’s electrification in 1914, Roland cracked under the pressure and had to be replaced by a new bell. But Roland was saved and is on display at the Emile Braunplein, next to the Belfry of Ghent. Maybe one day, Klokke Roeland will be placed in the Belfry again as part of the carillon.
The Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall, a marketplace for the wool and cloth trade, was built onto the Ghent Belfry. Construction works started in the 15th century but weren’t fully realized. It wasn’t until 1903 that the original plan for the The Cloth Hall was resurfaced and the construction executed as originally intended.
Visiting the Belfry of Ghent
On the ground floor, you can learn more about the Belfry’s history and the tale of the dragon. And then it’s time to make your way up. Climbing the 366 steps of the Belfry of Ghent is one of the top things to do in Ghent. (There’s an elevator on the 2nd floor in case you need it). You’ll be passing some small museums on the middle floors where you can learn more about the history of this landmark.
At the top floor, take a minute to watch the mechanical clockwork in action before you step out to enjoy the incredible views from the top. When you visit in winter, then we’d suggest doing so right before sunset. You can check the opening times here. Don’t forget to look up to the clock of the Ghent Belfry.
After you’ve taken your photos from the top, it’s time to photograph this Ghent monument from the outside. For that postcard view of the Three Towers of Ghent, head to St Michaels bridge.
Have you visited the Belfry of Ghent or is it on your list for the next visit to our hometown?
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