With a population of 248,739 residents, Ghent is Belgium’s second largest city.
Ghent is spelled Gent in Dutch and Gand in French.
We learned these 17 interesting facts about Ghent before and during our late May visit to Belgium.
1. Ghent began as a settlement at the confluence of the Scheldt and Leie Rivers in the Middle Ages, although archaeological discoveries date human presence in the region back to the Stone Age.
2. Historians believe that the name for Ghent was derived from the Celtic word ganda which means confluence.
3. Back in the 11th century Ghent was the second biggest city in Northern Europe after Paris, with its growth driven by its leadership in cloth production and trading.
4. The grass marshes in the areas around Ghent were ideal for herding sheep. The sheep provided wool used in making cloth. The demand for wool from Ghent was so massive that it had to be imported from England and Scotland. The wool cloth merchants accumulated significant wealth and power in governing of the city.
5. In 1500, Juana of Castile gave birth to Charles V, who became Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Although native to Ghent, Charles V wasn’t exactly friendly to the people of Ghent, ordering people who crossed him to be decapitated, burned or even buried alive in those days.
6. Ghent has always been know as a city of rebels.
7. After the winning the Revolt of Ghent in 1539, Charles V humiliated the people of Ghent by having city’s nobles to parade around the city barefoot with a noose (Dutch: “strop”) around their necks; since this incident, the people of Ghent have been called “Stroppendragers” (noose bearers).
8. Much of the Ghent’s medieval architecture remains remarkably well preserved and restored. Cars are banned in the city center, and the cobblestone streets are filled with people walking, biking or taking the public trams. The city center of Ghent is Belgium’s largest carfree area.
9. A cruise on the canals is a good way to view Ghent’s highlights and learn about it’s history from an entertaining boat driver. Boat tours are offered daily between April and October, and on weekends between November and March.
10. The Gravensteen Castle or the Castle of the Counts is a medieval castle is situated in the middle Ghent. While the top of the castle offers superb views of the city, the inside today houses a torture museum.
11. Ghent is a university city with 65,000 students, more than 25 percent of its population.
12. According to the tourism office, Ghent is home to 653 restaurants, 620 cafes, and 250 different kinds of beer.
13. Ghent is known for purple cone-shaped, jelly-filled candies called cuberdons or neuzekes (‘noses’). You can buy Ghent noses (Ghentse neuzen)at street stalls that specialize in these overly-sweet candies.
14. Two million visitors attend the 10-day-long “Ghent Festival” (Gentse Feesten in Dutch) every year.
15. The Gent Jazz Festival is held each summer. On July 12, 2015 legendary jazz crooner Tony Bennett and pop signer Lady Gaga will perform together at the Jazz Festival in Ghent.
16. The city of Ghent promotes a meat-free day every Thursday called Donderdag Veggiedag. Vegetarian food is promoted in dining rooms for civil servants, elected officials, and in public schools.
17. Ghent is said to have the world’s largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita.
What fun fact can you add about Ghent, Belgium? Please share in comments below.
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