Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Het Gravensteen, Ghent

Het Gravensteen is the ancient castle of the counts of Flanders, located in the heart of modern-day Ghent. It was begun in the 1100s but most of what's standing today was added later. It was a military fortification up to the 1300s. Then it was used as a prison until the late 1700s. Later it was used as a cotton mill. Now it is a tourist attraction with lots of the history and fun wandering available inside.

Het Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts), Ghent

The main entrance has a tunnel leading into the main courtyard, which is roomy and available for picnicking.

Castle courtyard with picnicking school group

We bought our tickets and went inside. Most of the rooms are what you'd imagine for a medieval castle--dark and foreboding.

Don't use the top door to leave!


The great hall has this ramp or slide, not sure what for

The Governor's Hall has an extensive collection of arms from various periods. The kids were a little bored but I found it fascinating. One great sword had lots of crinkly edges and hooks on it. The description explains how it was used to pull the armor off of knights, making them easier to fight. Yikes!

Mace and chain

Riding armor

Sword for tearing off your enemy's armor (nicknamed the "can opener")

Yikes! Pikes!

Some hand-held weapons

They displayed a surprising number of crossbows, including one tiny one that surely would have required a concealed weapon permit, if they had such things back in the day.

Not sure how intimidating those flowers on the top are

Some nice side decorations

Pocket version

The room also had a fireplace big enough for children. J and L love looking up the flue to see what they can see. They managed to see a little bit of daylight.


After a few rooms, we took a winding staircase up to the roof of the castle, which provided many nice views of Ghent.

J's favorite kind of staircase

The roof

The plaza across the street

More of Ghent

Flags blowing in the breeze

Going back downstairs, we discovered some artifacts left over from the prison days, including some medieval torture equipment! We did not stay long as we did not want to explain to the children the purpose of the various implements.


L, come back!

We also saw the main hall where the count would sit in judgment on cases or consult with local authorities. A chair let J and L be count for a minute!

Count's hall

Ex cathedra pronouncements

Another fireplace

The final part of the castle was a walk around the walls. The turrets were interesting to me since they had platforms half-way up, essentially doubling the amount of defenders who could repel invaders.

Two-level turret

Missing the second level!

The back of the castle needs some repairs

Courtyard view from the wall

The children decided one of the turrets had a break-room in it, just like their teachers use at school. When I went to snap a picture, I was asked to leave. I did hear them talking about gamma radiation experiments. Such chatter could be inspired by J's Incredible Hulk book, but maybe there's something going on at school the kids aren't telling us.

Hard at work

One final stop was the gift shop, which had a lot of empty space for some reason. I suppose with rainy weather, school groups would need somewhere to shelter while the guides tell them all about life in the good old days.

Not so inviting gift shop entrance

Big empty space

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