Art, Architecture and Heritage
Ghent has several museums of note, with SMAK (Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art) being the best-known and the most notorious for its bold and original exhibitions of both Belgian and international artists, including Hockney, Bacon and Beuys.
In October 2010 the city museum STAM opened its doors in a former Cisterian Monastery that already housed the resplendent Concert house “The Bijloke” and a variety of other cultural organisations. The STAM will guide you through Ghent’s historical development.
Also worth a visit are the recently-renovated MSK (Museum of Fine Arts) for its 15th to 20th century Flemish art collection and MIAT (Museum of Industrial Archaeology and Textiles), housed in an old cotton mill, which tracks the evolution from the industrial revolution to the present day.
The Design Museum is hidden behind a magnificent 18th century façade and is a modern building packed with design pieces dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, superb Art Nouveau and Art Deco collections, as well as late 20th century pieces and even contemporary works by the likes of Philippe Starck and Ron Arad.
The CityCard Gent is ideal for cultural visitors. For a reasonable price you can visit the most important museums and monuments, including temporary exhibitions.
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
The Van Eyck brothers painted this unique altarpiece in 1432. 'The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb' is the highlight of the Flemish Primitives and a milestone in art history. The Polyptych survived the Protestant Iconoclasm, fell into French hands under Napoleon and was requisitioned by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. But it has now been hanging peacefully for more than 50 years in the place where it belongs: St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Though admittedly, the ‘Just Judges’ panel, which was mysteriously stolen in 1934, is still replaced by a reproduction.
The Flemish Opera
“What makes opera so fantastic is the fact that it combines all forms of culture. You get vocals, theater and visual arts for the price of one,” says Marc Clémeur, the artistic director of the Flemish Opera (Vlaamse Opera), housed in the cities of Antwerp and Ghent. “Our productions are also very popular abroad. The reason why the Flemish Opera is received so well is because we focus on the vocal as well as on the visual experience. The several international prizes we have won prove that this aspect of opera is also important.”
With more listed buildings than any other Belgian city, there is plenty to see by way of architecture in Ghent. Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts, which is the only medieval fortress in Flanders, is a great place to start. This 12th century castle with its battlements is full of character, not to mention an armoury and torture chambers. Being right in the heart of the city, it rarely saw action, hence its virtually pristine condition.
Wander round the area known as Patershol and you will find yourself following the original 15th century street patterns; though most of the current buildings date to the 17th century, when inhabitants were given grants to replace the original wooden structures with stone ones. Patershol provided homes for the working classes from the 18th century onwards, but the area fell into a general state of disrepair in the 20th century, until the 1970s saw the homes bought privately and renovated. The area is now considered very chic.
Elsewhere, you will find particularly beautiful buildings on Graslei (Herb Quay) and Korenlei (Corn Quay), both of which are lined with houses dating from the Flemish Renaissance and earlier. To the east lies St. Niklaaskerk, an outstanding example of 13th century Gothic architecture, and the Town Hall, designed to be the largest of its kind in Europe, which is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles. Not to mention the 14th century Belfry and the late Gothic St. Baafskathedraal, which was built over six centuries in the Middle Ages.