Ghent (gĕnt), Du. Gent, Fr. Gand, city (1991 pop. 230,246), capital of East Flanders prov., W Belgium, at the confluence of the Scheldt and Leie rivers. Connected with the North Sea by the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal and by a network of other canals, Ghent is a major port and the chief textile and banking center of Belgium. Other products of the city include metals, chemicals, paper, processed food, and motor vehicles. It is also the trade center of a flower- and bulb-producing region. Ghent is an episcopal seat and has a university (founded 1816) as well as numerous museums.
Points of Interest
Ghent is noted for its many beautiful medieval and Renaissance structures, among which are the ruins of the Abbey of St. Bavo (founded 631) and of the imposing castle (begun 867) of the counts of Flanders, the Cathedral of St. Bavo (10th–16th cent.), the cloth weavers' hall (16th cent.), an unfinished 14th-century belfry (c.300 ft/91 m high) with a celebrated carillon, and the churches of St. Nicholas (13th cent.) and St. James (13th–16th cent.). Flemish painting flourished in Ghent under the Burgundian dynasty (15th cent.); Hugo van der Goes worked there most of his life, and the world-famous masterpiece of the Van Eyck brothers, The Adoration of the Lamb, is in the Cathedral of St. Bavo. The cathedral also contains a noted Rubens painting. The poet and dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck was born in the city.
One of Belgium's oldest cities (first mentioned in the 7th cent.) and the historic capital of Flanders, Ghent developed around a fortress built (early 10th cent.) by the first count of Flanders on a small island. The town soon spread to nearby islets, still connected by numerous bridges. By the 13th cent. the city had become a major wool-producing center, rivaled only by Bruges and Ypres. Medieval Ghent was an industrial city in the modern sense. Its four chief guilds—weavers, fullers, shearers, and dyers—comprised the majority of the working population. Social conflict emerged between the workers and the rich bourgeoisie; strikes and insurrections were frequent.
After the Battle of the Spurs (1302), at Kortrijk, the guilds' role in communal government increased rapidly, although not without opposition. A turbulent period of oligarchic rule followed, but the guilds regained power at the beginning (1337) of the Hundred Years War under Jacob van Artevelde and, later, Philip van Artevelde. The guilds continued to rule even after the French defeated and killed (1382) Philip van Artevelde at the battle of Roosebeke, and in 1385 the weavers made a favorable peace with Philip the Bold of Burgundy, who had inherited Flanders the previous year. Ghent retained its liberties and privileges until 1453, when, as a result of an unsuccessful rebellion, they were drastically curtailed by Philip the Good of Burgundy.
Rights were restored by the Great Privilege, promulgated (1477) by Mary of Burgundy. Mary's marriage (1477) to Archduke Maximilian (later Emperor Maximilian I) was at Ghent; their children were kept virtual prisoners by the burghers after Mary's death (1482). It was only in 1485 that Maximilian was able to overcome the rebellious city and obtain the release of his son Philip (later Philip I of Castile). Philip's son, later Emperor Charles V, was born (1500) and raised in Ghent. In 1539 the city rose against Charles, who hastened to Flanders, suppressed (1540) the rebellion, abrogated Ghent's liberties, and established a garrison to prevent further outbreaks.
Ghent later joined (1576) William the Silent in the revolt of the Netherlands and Flanders against Spain. The Pacification of Ghent, signed in November of the same year, was an alliance of the provinces of the Netherlands for the purpose of driving the Spanish from the country. For a time Ghent was a city-republic under Calvinist domination, but its capture (1584) by the Spanish under Alessandro Farnese restored it to Hapsburg rule, under which it remained until the French Revolution. The modern industrialization of the city began in the early 19th cent. with the development of its port and the establishment of textile factories. The city was occupied by the Germans in World Wars I and II.