An imposing fortress that looms over the city of Ghent, Gravensteen Castle is not necessarily pretty, and that’s how it was intended to be. In the Middle Ages, when Graventeen Castle was built, Europe was a very unsafe place. Ruling factions constantly vied for land and power and borders shifted nearly with the passing of each year. Those who were in power needed to protect themselves and let their citizens know who was in charge, so sturdy castles were erected across the continent. Go to Belgium, France, Spain, or any other country in Europe for that matter, and castles you will find. Though it has been restored and was even on the brink of destruction by the city at one time, Gravensteen survives to this day, looking much like it did when it was first built more than 800 years ago.
When enjoying tours of Ghent during your Belgium vacation, Gravensteen Castle is a must-visit. The panoramic views of the city alone are worth the price of admission, which is pretty low. It only makes sense that the Gravensteen Belgium fortress enjoys such views of the city, as this allowed the counts of Flanders to monitor what was going on below and around them. In Belgian cities like Ghent, Brugge, and Liege, uprisings were common, as citizens sometimes had distaste for life under the burden of the changing regimes. Also, as Christianity began to spread in Europe in the Middle Ages, religious conflicts were many, only helping to contribute to the tensions of the times. With religion very much on his mind, Philip of Alsace had the Gravensteen Ghent castle built in 1180. The Count of Flanders between the years 1157 and 1191, Philip of Alsace was inspired by the castles that he saw while participating in the Second Crusade. The Crusades were intended to spread Christianity throughout the then known world, and the cross that is found on Gravensteen’s front wall is a sign of Philip of Alsace’s devotion.
The Gravensteen Ghent fortress was built on the site of an older fortress, which obviously did not manage to survive. According to some historians, Count Baldwin Iron Arm had a cathedral built here in the ninth century, though it did not boast the six-foot thick stone walls that Gravensteen does. The counts of Flanders eventually abandoned Gravensteen in the fourteenth century, leaving it to serve different roles in the subsequent centuries. At one time it was a courthouse, while some of its life included duty as a prison. As it decayed over time, Gravensteen was pillaged to some degree, some of its stones used in the construction of other buildings. Houses were built right up against the castle’s hearty walls, though by the 1800s, demolition plans were made. Thankfully, the city of Ghent purchased the castle in 1885 and began restorations. Not only were the structure’s walls and donjon (tower) restored, but the encroaching houses were removed. Sure, the Gravensteen Ghent castle might not be as original as some folks would like it to be, but it’s still a fantastic historical attraction.
You can enjoy self-guided tours of Gravensteen Castle, and it’s certainly recommended that you get a view of the city from the tower. For those who are faint of heart, a visit to the castle’s small museum might be a bit intimidating, as various vestiges from the castle’s past torture chamber are on display here. Should you be interested, these relics offer incredible insight into just how brutal Medieval punishment could be. Also on display at the museum here are various weapons and armor suits. There are informational paper guides in English that will help you discern what you are looking at when enjoying a tour of Gravensteen, and it’s really fun to just climb around the structure taking it all in as your imagination soars. As mentioned, there is an admission fee, and discounts are available for students and seniors. The Gravensteen Ghent castle is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. It only closes on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.