Ghent is the municipality of Flanders and the capital of the Belgian province ’East Flanders’. Ghent is home to approximately 230,000 inhabitants, and in terms of population, it is the largest municipality of Belgium. The city lies at the confluence of the rivers Scheldt and Lys. The harbor of Ghent is very important in an economic sense due to its metal processing industries. The Ghent-Terneuzen Canal connects Ghent to the port of Terneuzen on the Scheldt, providing it access to the sea. The Gentse Feesten (Festival of Ghent) is an important cultural event in July consisting of ten days of music, theater and other celebrations, attracting approximately one million visitors every year.
Thanks to its favorable position by the two rivers, the area has been populated since prehistory. The name ‘Ghent’ comes from the Celtic word ‘Ganda’ which means 'converging' (of the rivers Scheldt and Lys). In the eighth and ninth centuries, during the reign of Emperor Charles, Ghent flourished up until the time when the plundering Normans destroyed the city. Everything was rebuilt quickly however, and by the 13th century, Ghent was already the second largest city of Northern Europe, after Paris, with approximately 60,000 inhabitants. This growth and prosperity was a result of the flowering wool industry. In the 14th century, the city began to decline and it lost its distinguished position. However, it remained an important trade and industrial area. In 1537, the citizens of Ghent revolted because emperor Charles V planned to impose higher taxes on the city. The emperor returned personally to his native town to punish the people. He made 50 citizens walk through Ghent barefooted, wearing only a white piece of cloth and having a piece of rope around the neck, begging for his mercy. The collective nickname of the inhabitants of the city, 'stropdagers' (‘rope wearers’), dates back to these times.
Just like in many other European cities, the urban population of Ghent suffered a lot during the global depression of the 1930’s and throughout World War II. The city was revived in the 1950's after the widening of the Ghent-Terneuzen canal. This led to many companies (including those from the steel, petrochemistry, and car assembly industries) establishing themselves around Ghent harbor.
The historical city center has several places of interest. The castle of Gravensteen for example originates from the Middle Ages and is an impressive example of defensive architecture. There are a number of famous paintings of Ghent, such as the three towers viewed from the St-Michielsbrug bridge, the towers of the Belfry, the Saint Bavo Cathedral, and the Church of Saint Nicholas. The Saint Bavo Cathedral is a very common sight in medieval paintings. The famous Ghent Altarpiece is ‘The adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, by Jan van Eyck. The medieval guildhalls along the Graslei and the Korenlei remain well preserved today.