The Gravensteen is a medieval castle in Ghent, East Flanders in Belgium, also known as the Castle of the Counts. The impressive structure is now a museum and major landmark.
History of the Gravensteen
The Gravensteen features a large central donjon and a permanent residence which was home to the Counts of Flanders between 1180 and 1353. It is surrounded by a defensive enclosure lined with overhanging, wall-mounted turrets, and a moat fed by the river Lys.
The site of the Gravensteen was originally the location of a castle built during the reign of Arnulf I (890-965) and fortified around 1000. It was situated between two tributaries of the Lys river. A motte-and-bailey was developed on the site which burned down around 1176.
The same site was used for the current structure, which was built by Philip of Alsace (1143-1191) in 1180. Philip was Count of Flanders and participated in two crusades to the Holy Land, where he died.
The crusader castles Philip saw may have informed the design of the Gravensteen. It functioned as a protective citadel and also performed an intimidating role against the burghers of Ghent. These citizens often challenged the authority of the count.
The castle was used as a court and a prison until the 18th century. It was also the location of Ghent’s mint in the 14th and 15th centuries. An industrialist purchased the castle during the Industrial Revolution and converted the structure into a cotton mill.
The Gravensteen today
The fortress today owes part of its appearance to modern restoration projects. The Gravensteen was restored in line with architect Joseph de Waele’s romanticising Gothic style of restorations in the city of Ghent between 1893 and 1907. The castle is a major landmark in the centre of Ghent.
A ticket permits entrance to the castle. The site today hosts a macabre torture museum. Visitors can also make use of an audio guide as they walk around the castle.
Getting to the Gravensteen
The Gravensteen is located in the Belgian city of Ghent and can be reached by train and bus from Gent Sint-Pieters station. It is usually open every day from 10am to 6pm, while last tickets at the box office are sold at 4.40pm. It is closed over Christmas and on New Year’s Day.