During my first trip to Belgium, I had the pleasure of visiting the city of Ghent (Gent.) After walking around this charming city for a while, Gravensteen Castle most definitely caught my eye. I immediately knew I had to visit, so we walked inside and purchased tickets for the self-guided tour.
Nearly everyone in Belgium that I met spoke several languages, while I am limited to around two and a half-ish. The gentleman at the counter was very nice and asked me the same question in about seven different languages until we found a common one, then of course we laughed. He was asking my age, so keep in mind that if you are young enough you could get a discount while visiting!
The present Gravensteen Castle, which means “castle of the counts,” was built in 1180 and was modeled after crusader castles. Before this castle was built, a wooden castle stood in its place. The present castle was built for count Philip of Alsace, who was the count of Flanders from 1168-1191. The Counts of Flanders abandoned the castle in the 14th century.
After some time, the castle was used for various things including a courthouse and prison. People began to build houses against the wall, and it was eventually set to be demolished in the 19th century. Luckily, in 1885 the city of Ghent purchased the castle and began restoring it in 1893.
Inside of the castle, you will find an assortment of objects on display. According to the laws of the times, nobody could be punished unless they confessed to committing a crime. This results in suspects being tortured in order to coerce a confession of some kind out of them. After seeing that this worked, this type of torture became the standard practice.
After the suspects would confess to their crimes, they did not get things any easier. Their punishments were just as, if not more, inhumane than the torture they would endure to admit their crimes.
Executions were carried out both inside of the walls and out in front of the gatehouse. You can see some of the torture and coercion instruments, such as iron collars with spikes inside, a torture wheel, a small hammer that was used to crush one finger at a time, and of course the infamous guillotine. You can view some of the actual instruments used by Ghent’s last executioner.
Aside from these gruesome yet fascinating torture objects, you can view the collection of arms that have been used throughout history. This includes daggers, crossbows, and swords.
After climbing the very narrow and dark stairwells, you will eventually make your way up to the roof of the castle. This is by far one of the best views of the city of Ghent. It is fun and interesting to look through the small stone windows and see the city.
If you are taking a trip to Belgium, I highly recommend visiting both Ghent and Gravensteen while you are there! It was such a historical and interesting experience, plus it was fun to be in an actual castle for a little while.