The Gravensteen Castle was first built by Count Philip of Alsace in 1180, long before Belgium was a country. Also known as the Castle of the Counts, today this historical building is a tourist attraction, wedding venue and location for a variety of cultural activities.
In the 11th century, the wooden structure was replaced by stone and in the following centuries, the medieval castle was enlarged several times. It housed several of the city's services until it lost its administrative function in the 18th century.
Part of the building was sold off to private companies and in 1807 the fortress was used as a cotton mill. By the mid-19th century, it was falling into a state of disrepair and no longer complied with safety regulations. The city of Ghent and the Belgian government bought the buildings back from its private owners at the end of the 19th Century to start a process of restoration.
It's now one of many castles in Belgium you can visit.
Visiting the Gravensteen Castle
Both my mom and I had been to the city of Ghent several times already, but the Gravensteen Castle was one of the places we hadn't been before and I must say it was on top of my list of things to do for the day!
When you arrive at the fully restored castle, walk through the entry gate to buy your ticket, then you can just follow the route provided. Standard entry price is 12 EUR/ 13 USD. You can pre book tickets here.
One way to learn about the history of the castles' inhabitants over the years is with the optional video tour. It's nicely done but going through the castle will be very time consuming if you watch every clip.
Discovering the castle's history
The image below is the first room you visit and where you'll pick up and drop off the device for the video tour. I started watching the videos here but I have to be honest; I didn't have the patience for it. I put it away and just followed the route through the castle to simply explore what was there.
First up was the Arms Museum, where we saw pistols, crossbows, daggers and more. According to the Gravensteen website, “each type of weapon in medieval warfare is featured in the collection”. I especially liked how the blue lighting in this room contrasted the orange of the “closets” that held the pieces.
After we'd checked out the Arms Museum, we took the stairs up to the rooftop terrace. From there you get a great 360° view over the city of Ghent.
This might be obvious, but it can get quite chilly up here when it's windy.
History of Torture
We went back down via a different staircase that led us into the Museum of Judicial Objects, which might as well have been called the Museum of Torture.
From the 14th until the 18th century the Castle of the Counts had an important administrative function as the seat of the Council of Flanders and the Board of the Oudburg. It was where suspects were imprisoned, the accused were tortured, judgments were declared and executions carried out.
In the middle ages someone could not be punished if he hadn't confessed his crime; confessions were acquired through the cruelest methods of torture. The museum displays some of the tools used for torture; thumb screws, a mask of shame and neck restraints.
Most of the torture tools are displayed in a “sober” way, although there are some puppets demonstrating the use of certain tools. Something you might want to be aware of if bringing kids. Although, I'm pretty sure they've seen worse if they've ever watched the evening news.
Lastly, we visited the “cellar”, where you can see remains of the original fortress walls. There's not much more to seen in this room so after about an hour we concluded our tour, both happy that we'd finally visited.
Sint-Veerleplein 11, Gent
For a more adventurous visit, try try this scavenger hunt that includes the Gravensteen.
Where to stay in Ghent
Check Booking.com for an extensive list of options for all budgets and needs.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered every trip I go on.
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PIN FOR LATER
Tourism Ghent provided me with a city card for this day trip to Ghent. My mom paid her own way. We both loved the Castle of the Counts just as much, so you can be sure that getting the card has nothing to do with that and that partnerships like this will never affect how I write about a place.