It would be difficult even for veteran travelers to say they’ve “seen” Ghent in a day. This is one powerful Belgium city, rich with historic buildings, art, and room for roaming.
Bruges is the belle; Ghent is the rebel.Hecktic Travels
If Bruges is charming for its quaint structures and meandering small waterways, then Ghent would have to be called “impressive” for its wide rivers flanked by walkways, Flemish architectural gems, and massive buildings.
Ghent’s wide-open spaces wowed us as well.
We crossed bridges and joined other tourists on wide walkways flanked by tall, sturdy cathedrals and early stone buildings like Gravensteen Castle.
This 11th century city, rebuilt after Vikings plundered it, remains a stronghold for residents (many of whom are immigrants and newcomers) intent on preserving and protecting architectural gems and the rivers that run through this timeless place.
I have always believed that every great city in history needs a vibrant center.Eli Broad
After strolling through the city, we stopped for a while at one of the gems of Ghent: St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafs Cathedral), Ghent’s oldest parish church. It stands on the former site of St. John’s Church which was destroyed, but some Romanesque elements remained. In the 13th century, St. Bavo’s was converted into a Catholic church and most of the chapels were extended in early Gothic style. With its black-and-white tiled floor, vertical grandeur, and the opulent Rococo pulpit, the church has become a repository of masterpieces of Belgian art.
We began our tour with augmented reality, and, using headgear, we moved through the lower part of the cathedral to see how it might have been reconstructed. (We must tell you: this is a better experience than we could have expected — well worth the ticket price!)
The main event (after our augmented reality session) was the viewing of the Ghent Altarpiece, a massive 15th century polyptych begun by artist Hubert Van Eyck but completed after his death by his brother, Jan Van Eyck.
The altarpiece is currently being restored, but we were able to view the whole of the artwork, even its foldable sides, closely.
Also called The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the central scene of the altarpiece shows the redemption of mankind through the sacrifice of Christ, represented in the form of the lamb. Other panels include judges, hermits, and pilgrims as well as Christ on the throne flanked by Mary and John.
With a final visit to the cathedral itself, we marveled at workmanship we may never see again — not in our lifetime, at least.
So, if you’re visiting Belgium and have only a partial day between Bruges and Brussels, we can wholeheartedly recommend a stroll through historic, beautiful Ghent. You won’t find art and architecture on any grander scale!
Rusha & Bert
This post is one in a series prompted by a recent trip to The Netherlands and Belgium. Thank you to Viking cruises (Holland & Belgium 2022) and our travel agent, Lauren Gunnels of Ortelius Travel Advisors, for the arrangements and free time to enjoy the scenery!