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743 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Tradition has it that the count of Flanders, Philippe d’Alsace, was so deeply impressed by a castle he saw during a crusade, that in 1180 he promptly ordered to build a Ghent version of one of the Christian strongholds in the Holy Land. This enormous stone castle dominated mediaeval Ghent – just like Philippe wanted it to. The count wanted to make his supremacy over the rebellious rich city perfectly clear and, in doing so, keep the self-conscious people of Ghent quiet. The castle was home to the counts of Flanders until the fourteenth century. Here, they invited princes, monarchs and other rich folk for assemblies and festive banquets. After the 14th century, they moved to the Prinsenhof (where in 1500 the future Charles V was born).

After the counts of Flanders had moved out, the Count’s Castle had lost its military importance, and was used as the Count’s Mint, as a Court of Justice and as a prison with torture rooms. Verdicts pronounced in the Count’s Castle were executed on the Sint-Veerle Square right across the Castle. The punishments varied from public humiliation, flogging, hanging, cutting off arms and legs and branding to simmering until they were done at the stake. Especially during the religious persecutions and witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries, many people were being tortured and murdered on the Sint Veerle Square. In 1861 the last person was beheaded here, on the guillotine. Today, in the Count’s Castle, you can visit the varied collections of instruments of torture, the well-fitted pain-room, and the gloomy oubliettes.

In the 19th Century, the Count’s Castle was sold to a wealthy industrialist. He turned it into a factory compound with cotton mills and metal construction workshops. Around this time, Ghent was growing into one of Europe’s foremost industrial centres – where child labour and workers’ exploitation were an everyday reality. The manager’s house was in the Count’s Castle gate. Against the castle’s walls, dozens of slums were built for the workers. The industrial activity completely wrecked the Count’s Castle.

When at the end of the 19th century industry and workers moved to the edges of town, the workshops, the spinning mills and the shabby workers’ houses were demolished. The remnants of the mediaeval castle resurfaced. Immediately, it became clear that the Count’s Castle was in a very bad state: it seemed only fit for demolition. Most people in Ghent were not about to lose any sleep over it. They saw the Castle mainly as a symbol of misuse of power, oppression, and horrible torture practices. All the same, the Count’s Castle was being restored, to coincide with the world fair that took place in Ghent in 1913. The restorers who did the job, reconstructed the castle, mainly leaning on their own romantic fantasy. The rebuilt Count’s Castle, with its very convincing mediaeval look, therefore is not an authentic 12th century castle, but the result of poetic licence let loose. Mediaeval people would not recognise ‘their’ Count’s Castle.

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