The Castle of the Counts is in the city center of Ghent, Belgium. This medieval fortress hasn’t been lived in for centuries, but the charm of its layers of walls and rooms, narrow stairways, and real battlements lives on. Just behind the moat, the castle also known as Gravensteen waits to welcome visitors to explore.
Back in the 800s, Count Arnulf of Flanders built a castle on this site. This small castle constructed out of wood included a grain store and it thrived in the growing industry of young Flanders. In fact, Ghent grew to be the largest city in the region. Two centuries later, wool became the dominant product of Ghent. The wooden castle, with its outdated grain store, was replaced with one built of Tournai limestone. The counts in power added high walls and watchtowers, and they extended the moat. You can still see inside the addition of different types of bricks to add color. The existing castle was built in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace.
The Castle of the Counts, while never a permanent residence, served for hundreds of years as a place for counts to stay during their travels. It seems no one in power wanted to live in Ghent full-time, as the people here were far too rebellious to make good neighbors, even with barriers of stone separating the high class from the commoner.
The castle survived various ups and downs including a plan to demolish it, and eventually it was restored to what you see today. It’s been open to the public since 1907.
The Castle of the Counts at times hosted a court of law and, conveniently, a prison. The underground cells proved to be damp and cold in the winter. Torture was legal on and off, so flogging and removal of limbs were not unusual punishments. Some of the rooms retain a forbidding atmosphere.
I was amazed that the Castle of the Counts is so much a part of the daily life of Ghent that people walk by and don’t even notice it. We ate dinner at this cafe literally in the shadow of a castle built in the 1100s.
I found the compact, skyward architecture and the layers of history appealing. The Castle of the Counts shows so much of Ghent’s history and human (and inhuman) traits. Sit and enjoy a meal or a drink on the patio and bask in all you’ve learned and seen at this fascinating castle.
The Castle of the Counts is open every day from 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Entry is 12 Euro for adults and free for children up to age 12.
For more information about visiting the castle, check out the official website.
Read more about my visit to Ghent.
For more information about visiting Ghent, check this excellent website. And these are helpful guides to help you plan your trip!
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