1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ghent

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GHENT (Flem. Gent, Fr. Gand), the capital of East Flanders, Belgium, at the junction of the Scheldt and the Lys (Ley). Pop. (1880) 131,431, (1904) 162,482. The city is divided by the rivers (including the small streams Lieve and Moere) and by canals, some navigable, into numerous islands connected by over 200 bridges of various sorts. Within the limits of the town, which is 6 m. in circumference, are many gardens, meadows and promenades; and, though its characteristic lanes are gloomy and narrow, there are also broad new streets and fine quays and docks. The most conspicuous building in the city is the cathedral of St Bavon[1] (Sint Baafs), the rich interior of which contrasts strongly with its somewhat heavy exterior. Its crypt dates from 941, the choir from 1274–1300, the Late Gothic choir chapels from the 15th century, and the nave and transept from 1533–1554. Among the treasures of the church is the famous “Worship of the Lamb” by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Of the original 12 panels, taken to France during the Revolutionary Wars, only 4 are now here, 6 being in the Berlin museum and two in that of Brussels. Among the other 55 churches may be mentioned that of St Nicholas, an Early Gothic building, the oldest church in date of foundation in Ghent, and that of St Michael, completed in 1480, with an unfinished tower. In the centre of the city stands the unfinished Belfry (Beffroi), a square tower some 300 ft. high, built 1183–1339. It has a cast-iron steeple (restored in 1854), on the top of which is a gold dragon which, according to tradition, was brought from Constantinople either by the Varangians or by the emperor Baldwin after the Latin conquest. Close to it is the former Cloth-hall, a Gothic building of 1325. The hôtel-de-ville consists of two distinct parts. The northern façade, a magnificent example of Flamboyant Gothic, was erected between 1518 and 1533, restored in 1829 and again some fifty years later. The eastern façade overlooking the market-place was built in 1595–1628, in the Renaissance style, with three tiers of columns. It contains a valuable collection of archives, from the 13th century onwards. On the left bank of the Lys is the Oudeburg (s’Gravenstein, Château des Contes), the former castle of the first counts of Flanders, dating from 1180 and now restored. The château of the later counts, in which the emperor Charles V. was born, is commemorated only in the name of a street, the Cours des Princes.

To the north of the Oudeburg, on the other side of the Lys, is the Marché du Vendredi, the principal square of the city. This was the centre of the life of the medieval city, the scene of all great public functions, such as the homage of the burghers to the counts, and of the auto-da-fés under the Spanish regime. In it stands a bronze statue of Jacob van Artevelde, by Devigne-Quyo, erected in 1863. At a corner of the square is a remarkable cannon, known as Dulle Griete (Mad Meg), 19 ft. long and 11 ft. in circumference. It is ornamented with the arms of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, and must have been cast between 1419 and 1467. On the Scheldt, near the Place Laurent, is the Geerard-duivelsteen (château of Gerard the Devil), a 13th-century tower formerly belonging to one of the patrician families, now restored and used as the office of the provincial records. Of modern buildings may be mentioned the University (1826), the Palais de Justice (1844), and the new theatre (1848), all designed by Roelandt, and the Institut des Sciences (1890) by A. Pauli. In the park on the site of the citadel erected by Charles V. are some ruins of the ancient abbey of St Bavon and of a 12th-century octagonal chapel dedicated to St Macharius. In the park is also situated the Museum of Fine Arts, completed in 1902.

One of the most interesting institutions of Ghent is the great Béguinage (Begynhof) which, originally established in 1234 by the Bruges gate, was transferred in 1874 to the suburb of St Amandsberg. It constitutes a little town of itself, surrounded by walls and a moat, and contains numerous small houses, 18 convents and a church. It is occupied by some 700 Beguines, women devoted to good works (see Beguines). Near the station is a second Béguinage with 400 inmates. In addition to these there were in Ghent in 1901 fifty religious houses of various orders.

As a manufacturing centre Ghent, though not so conspicuous as it was in the middle ages, is of considerable importance. The main industries are cotton-spinning, flax-spinning, cotton-printing, tanning and sugar refining; in addition to which there are iron and copper foundries, machine-building works, breweries and factories of soap, paper, tobacco, &c. As a trading centre the city is even more important. It has direct communication with the sea by a ship-canal, greatly enlarged and deepened since 1895, which connects the Grand Basin, stretching along the north side of the city, with a spacious harbour excavated at Terneuzen on the Scheldt, 21 1/2 m. to the north, thus making Ghent practically a sea-port; while a second canal, from the Lys, connects the city via Bruges with Ostende.

Among the educational establishments is the State University, founded by King William I. of the Netherlands in 1816. With it are connected a school of engineering, a school of arts and industries and the famous library (about 300,000 printed volumes and 2000 MSS.) formerly belonging to the city. In addition there are training schools for teachers, an episcopal seminary, a conservatoire and an art academy with a fine collection of pictures mainly taken from the religious houses of the city on their suppression in 1795. The oldest Belgian newspaper, the Gazet van Gent, was founded here in 1667.

History.—The history of the city is closely associated with that of the countship of Flanders (q.v.), of which it was the seat. It is mentioned so early as the 7th century and in 868 Baldwin of the Iron Arm, first count of Flanders, who had been entrusted by Charles the Bald with the defence of the northern marches, built a castle here against the Normans raiding up the Scheldt. This was captured in 949 by the emperor Otto I. and was occupied by an imperial burgrave for some fifty years, after which it was retaken by the counts of Flanders. Under their protection, and favoured by its site, the city rapidly grew in wealth and population, the zenith of its power and prosperity being reached between the 13th and 15th centuries, when it was the emporium of the trade of Germany and the Low Countries, the centre of a great cloth industry, and could put some 20,000 armed citizens into the field. The wealth of the burghers during this period was equalled by their turbulent spirit of independence; feuds were frequent,—against the rival city of Bruges, against the counts, or, within the city itself, between the plebeian crafts and the patrician governing class. Of these risings the most notable was that, in the earlier half of the 14th century, against Louis de Crécy, count of Flanders, under the leadership of Jacob van Artevelde (q.v.).

The earliest charter to the citizens of Ghent was that granted by Count Philip of Flanders between 1169 and 1191. It did little more than arrange for the administration of justice by nominated jurats (scabini) under the count’s bailli. Far more comprehensive was the second charter, granted by Philip’s widow Mathilda, after his death on crusade in 1191, as the price paid for the faithfulness of the city to her cause. The magistrates of the city were still nominated scabini (fixed at thirteen), but their duties and rights were strictly defined and the liberties of the citizens safe-guarded; the city, moreover, received the right to fortify itself and even individuals within it to fortify their houses. This charter was confirmed and extended by Count Baldwin VIII. when he took over the city from Mathilda, an important new provision being that general rules for the government of the city were only to be made by arrangement between the count or his officials and the common council of the citizens. The burghers thus attained to a very considerable measure of self-government. A charter of 1212 of Count Ferdinand (of Portugal) and his wife Johanna introduced a modified system of election for the scabini; a further charter (1228) fixed the executive at 39 members, including scabini and members of the commune, and ordained that the bailli of the count and his servientes, like the podestàs of Italian cities, were not to be natives of Ghent.

Thus far the constitution of the city had been wholly aristocratic; in the 13th century the patricians seem to have been united into a gild (Commans-gulde) from whose members the magistrates were chosen. By the 14th century, however, the democratic craft gilds, notably that of the weavers, had asserted themselves; the citizens were divided for civic and military purposes into three classes; the rich (i.e. those living on capital), the weavers and the members of the 52 other gilds. In the civic executive, as it existed to the time of Charles V., the deans of the two lower classes sat with the scabini and councillors.

The constitution and liberties of the city, which survived its incorporation in Burgundy, were lost for a time as a result of the unsuccessful rising against Duke Philip the Good (1450). The citizens, however, retained their turbulent spirit. After the death of Mary of Burgundy, who had resided in the city, they forced her husband, the archduke Maximilian, to conclude the treaty of Arras (1482). They were less fortunate in their opposition to Maximilian’s son, the emperor Charles V. In 1539 they refused, on the plea of their privileges, to contribute to a general tax laid on Flanders, and when Charles’s sister Mary, the governess of the Netherlands, seized some merchants as bail for the payment, they retaliated by driving out the nobles and the adherents of Charles’s government. The appearance of Charles himself, however, with an overwhelming force quelled the disturbance; the ringleaders were executed, and all the property and privileges of the city were confiscated. In addition, a fine of 150,000 golden gulden was levied on the city, and used to build the “Spanish Citadel” on the site of what is now the public park.

In the long struggle of the Netherlands against Spain, Ghent took a conspicuous part, and it was here that, on the 8th of November 1576, was signed the instrument, known as the Pacification of Ghent, which established the league against Spanish tyranny. In 1584, however, the city had to surrender on onerous terms to the prince of Parma.

The horrors of war and of religious persecution, and the consequent emigration or expulsion of its inhabitants, had wrecked the prosperity of Ghent, the recovery of which was made impossible by the closing of the Scheldt. The city was captured by the French in 1698, 1708 and 1745. After 1714 it formed part of the Austrian Netherlands, and in 1794 became the capital of the French department of the Scheldt. In 1814 it was incorporated in the kingdom of the United Netherlands, and it was here that Louis XVIII. of France took refuge during the Hundred Days. Here too was signed (December 24, 1814) the treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States of America. After 1815 Ghent was for a time the centre of Catholic opposition to Dutch rule, as it is now that of the Flemish movement in Belgium. During the 19th century its prosperity rapidly increased. In 1866–1867, however, a serious outbreak of cholera again threatened it with ruin; but improved sanitation, the provision of a supply of pure water and the demolition of a mass of houses unfit for habitation soon effected a radical cure.

See L. A. Warnkönig, Flandrische Staats- und Rechtsgeschichte bis 1305 (3 vols., Tübingen, 1835–1842), and Gueldorf, Hist. de Gand, translated from Warnkönig, with corrections and additions (Brussels, 1846); F. de Potter, Gent van den oudsten tijd tot heden (6 vols., Ghent, 1883–1891); Van Duyse, Gand monumental et pittoresque (Brussels, 1886); de Vlaminck, Les Origines de la ville de Gand (Brussels, 1891); Annales Gandenses, ed. G. Funck-Brentano (Paris, 1895); Vuylsteke, Oorkondenboek der stad Gent (Ghent, 1900, &c.); Karl Hegel, Städte und Gilden (Leipzig, 1891), vol. ii. p. 175, where further authorities are cited. For a comprehensive bibliography, including monographs and published documents, see Ulysse Chevalier, Répertoire des sources hist. Topo-bibliogr., s.v. “Gand.”

  1. Bavo, or Allowin (c. 589–c. 653), patron saint of Ghent, was a nobleman converted by St Amandus, the apostle of Flanders. He lived first as an anchorite in the forest of Mendonk, and afterwards in the monastery founded with his assistance by Amandus at Ghent.