Look up at the magical city skyline for a moment during your weekend trip in Ghent: you can’t miss it. The Belfry is the middle tower in the famous row of three, between St Bavo’s Cathedral and St Nicholas’ Church. A fiery dragon, the proud symbol and mascot of Ghent, guards the historic heart of the city.
The Ghent Belfry symbolises the city’s prosperity and independence. The Cloth Hall, built onto the Belfry, was completed in 1907. The flamboyant Brabant Gothic style of the Cloth Hall is an ode to the industry to which Ghent owes so much. On the corner of the Cloth Hall is an old jailer’s house.
The Ghent Belfry, a recognised UNESCO World Heritage, is well worth a visit. In 1402, it was the place where city privileges were kept: in a chest, locked up in the Belfry safe. The dragon, which has been up on the tower since 1377, kept an eye on the city as well as being the symbolic guardian of the belfry. The Belfry also proudly carried the alarm bell, the ‘Great Triumphant’. Today you will find this bell, nicknamed ‘Roland’ by the people of Ghent, not far from the Belfort on Emile Braunplein.
Until 1442, St Nicholas’ Church was the main watchtower. In 1442, the watchmen in the tower moved across to the newly completed Belfry. Along with the bell ringers, these watchmen, or the corps of ‘men who guard the city’, served until 1869. Fire was a particular danger in Ghent.
The Belfry tower is an absolute must-see! Climb the stairs, listen to the chiming sound of the carillon and enjoy the view of the vibrant city of Ghent. There is a lift from the first floor. The stunning view over Ghent is bound to enchant you. However, the Belfry is not accessible to visitors with reduced mobility.
The Mammelokker, a legend behind bars
In 1741, a building was erected between the Belfry and the Cloth Hall, which served as the entrance to the city jail. You will see a relief sculpture above the entrance. The sculpture tells an old Roman legend of a man, Cimon, who was sentenced to death by starvation. He survived his sentence because his daughter visited every day and breastfed him. ‘Mamme’ means ‘breast’ and ‘lokken’ means ‘suck’ in an old Ghent dialect.