Ghent is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe. Today it is a busy city with a port and a university.The municipality comprises the city of Ghent proper and the towns of Afsnee, Desteldonk, Drongen, Gentbrugge, Ledeberg, Mariakerke, Mendonk, Oostakker, Sint-Amandsberg, Sint-Denijs-Westrem, Sint-Kruis-Winkel, Wondelgem and Zwijnaarde. Ghent is Belgium’s second largest municipality by number of inhabitants. Every year the ten-day-long “Ghent Festival” (Gentse Feesten in Dutch) is held. About two million visitors attend every year. Much of the city’s medieval architecture remains intact and is remarkably well preserved and restored.
Its centre is the largest carfree area in Belgium. Interesting highlights are the Saint Bavo Cathedral with the Ghent Altarpiece, the belfry, the Gravensteen castle, and the splendid architecture along the old Graslei harbour. Ghent established a nice blend between comfort of living and history – it is not a city-museum. The city of Ghent houses also three béguinages and numerous churches, among which the Saint-James’ church, the Saint-Nicolas’ church and the Saint Michael’s church are the most beautiful examples.In the nineteenth century Ghent’s most famous architect, Louis Roelandt, built the university hall Aula, the opera house and the main courthouse. Highlights of modern architecture are the university buildings (the Boekentoren or Book Tower) by Henry Van de Velde. There are also a few theatres from diverse periods.The beguinages, as well as the belfry and adjacent cloth hall, were recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1998 and 1999. mportant museums in Ghent are the Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Museum of Fine Arts), with paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens, and many Flemish masters; the SMAK or Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (City Museum for Contemporary Art), with works of the 20th century, including Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol; and the Designmuseum with masterpieces of Victor Horta and Le Corbusier.
The Huis van Alijn (House of the Alijn family) was originally a beguinage and is now a museum for folk art where theatre and puppet shows for children are presented. The Museum voor Industriële Archeologie en Textiel or MIAT displays the industrial strength of Ghent with recreations of workshops and stores from the 1800s and original spinning and weaving machines that remain from the time when the building was a weaving mill. STAM, the new Ghent City Museum, is committed to recording and explaining the past of the city and its inhabitants, and to preserve the present for future generations. The port of Ghent, in the north of the city, is the third largest port of Belgium. It is accessed by the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, which ends near the Dutch port of Terneuzen on the Western Scheldt.
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