Ghent – Belgium, Europe
Ghent (Dutch: Gent; French: Gand; and formerly Gauntin English; from the Classic Latin term Candia or Gandia meaning landlock bythe confluence of rivers by the union of the Celtic term “Cand” andLatin “ia” land) is a city and a municipality located in the Flemishregion of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at theconfluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one ofthe largest and richest cities of northern Europe.Today it is a busy city with a port and a university. Although many of Belgium’s visitors overlook Ghent,its beauty is often compared to the more well-known Bruges.
The municipality comprises the city of Ghent proper and thetowns 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’ssecond largest municipality by number of inhabitants. The metropolitan area,including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 1,205 km2 (465 sq mi) andhas a total population of 594,582 as of 1 January 2008, which ranks it as thefourth most populous in Belgium. The current mayor of Ghent, Daniël Termont, leads a coalition ofthe sp.a, Open VLD and Pro Gent.
Every year the ten-day-long “Ghent Festival”(Gentse Feesten in Dutch) is held. About two million visitors attend everyyear.
Archaeological evidence shows human presence in the regionof the confluence of Scheldt and Lys goingback as far as the Stone Age and the Iron Age. Most historians believe that theolder name for Ghent, ‘Ganda’, is derived from the Celtic word ‘ganda’ whichmeans confluence. There are no written records of the Roman period butarchaeological research confirms that the region of Ghent was furtherinhabited.
When the Franks invaded the Roman territories (fromthe end of the 4th century and well into the 5th century) they brought theirlanguage with them and Celtic and Latin were replaced by Old Dutch.
Important museums in Ghent are the Museum voor SchoneKunsten (Museum of Fine Arts), with paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, Peter PaulRubens, and many Flemish masters; the SMAK or Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst(City Museum for Contemporary Art), with works of the 20th century, includingJoseph Beuys and Andy Warhol; and the Design Museum with masterpieces of VictorHorta and Le Corbusier. The Huis van Alijn (House of the Alijn family) wasoriginally a beguinage and is now a museum for folk art where theatre andpuppet shows for children are presented. The Museum voor IndustriëleArcheologie en Textiel or MIAT displays the industrial strength of Ghent with recreations ofworkshops and stores from the 1800s and original spinning and weaving machinesthat remain from the time when the building was a weaving mill. STAM, the new Ghent City Museum, is committed torecording and explaining the past of the city and its inhabitants, and topreserve the present for future generations.
As with most Belgian cities, Ghent offers a rich variety of local andforeign cuisine. The city centre and quarter called “Patershol” has ahuge concentration of restaurants. The “Sleepstraat” a little bitfurther north houses a number of Turkish restaurants and food bars. Bycontrast, restaurants are rather sparse beyond the “historic centre”.
In Ghentand other regions of East-Flanders, bakeries sell a donut-shaped bun called a”mastel” (plural “mastellen”), which is basically a bagel.”Mastellen” are also called “Saint Hubertbread”, because on the Saint’s feast day, which is 3 November, the bakersbring their batches to the early Mass to be blessed. Traditionally, it isthought that blessed mastellen immunize against rabies.
As with many areas of northern Belgium thediet centres around hearty stews and soups. Flemish beef stew (stoverij) isavailable almost everywhere as is “Waterzooi”, a local steworiginally made from freshwater fish caught in the rivers and creeks of Ghent,but nowadays often made with chicken instead of fish. It is usually servednouvelle-cuisine-style, and will be supplemented by a large pot on the side.
The city promotes a meat-free day on Thursdays calledDonderdag Veggiedag with vegetarian food being promoted in public canteens forcivil servants and elected councillors, in all city funded schools, andpromotion of vegetarian eating options in town (through the distribution of”veggie street maps”). This campaign is linked to the recognition ofthe detrimental environmental effects of meat production, which the UnitedNations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has established to represent nearlyone-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The city is host to some big cultural events such asthe Gentse Feesten, I Love Techno, “10 Days Off” musical festival,Flanders International Film Festival Ghent (with the World Soundtrack Awards)and the Gent Festival van Vlaanderen. Also, every five years, a huge botanicalexhibition (Gentse Floraliën) takes place in Ghent, attracting numerous visitors to thecity.
The Festival of Flanders had its 50th celebration in2008. In Ghent it opens with the OdeGand City festivities that takes place on thesecond Saturday of September. Some 50 concerts take place in diverse locationsthroughout the medieval inner-city and some 250 international artists performs.Other major Flemish cities hold similar events, all of which form part of theFestival of Flanders (Antwerp with LausPolyphoniae; Bruges with MAfestival; Brussels with KlaraFestival; Limburg with Basilica,Mechelen and Brabant with Novecento andTransit).