Attending a scientific workshop does not always allow for enough time to explore the city in which the workshop is held, but the organizers of the 2016 HUPO-PSI had left some blocks of time free for visits to the city. Even better, the schedule included some dinners in historic locations within the city! The meeting itself was taking place in the historic Het Pand cultural and convention center for the University of Ghent. The facility was once a Dominican monastery on the banks of the river Lys. Its gardens made for an excellent group photo!
The first night of the conference, the organizers had set up for the entire group to visit a beer brewery. Ghent has a great reputation in beer since its history has allowed a considerable mingling of French, German, and Dutch influences. The Lys river represented a fault line for beer production. The hops-based brewers on the right bank could not be reconciled with the herbs-based, hop-free brewers on the left bank. Our group would be hosted by the Gruut City Brewery, a firm that was established in 2009 by Annick De Splenter, who completed her Master’s degree in attempting to recreate the herb mixes that had historically been used for hops-free brewing. The brewery conducts its beer tastings in the Monsterium PoortAckere, not far from the city center, located in an area that has been occupied as far back as 1278. I was happy that my friend Dirk captured a photo of me taking in the sights of the chapel.
The following day was an incredibly busy one. I learned I was facilitating the birth of a new working group for HUPO-PSI in quality control, so we began powering our way through the requirements. Happily, our group was able to complete its agenda before 4:30 PM, so I had two and a half hours to explore the town before our 7:00 PM dinner at the lovely Pakhuis restaurant. I immediately stepped next door to enter the Sint Michielskerk.
While it is not the most famous church of the city, I did love the height of St. Michael’s windows, letting abundant afternoon light into the nave. The church features some lovely paintings and stained glass. I paused before the the “Christ on the Cross” by Van Dyck. I also love an elevated two-story speaker’s platform that’s simply covered in ornate carvings. It’s a relaxing place to unwind from a challenging day.
One of the most characteristic views of Ghent appears when one turns the corner upon leaving St. Michael’s. The bridge adjoining the church points directly into the Korenmarkt, in the historic center of the city.
I pressed to the east, and I found a building I had loved when I first visited Ghent in 2009. It was the Masons’ Guild Hall. The figures atop its gable are dancers.
The citizens of Ghent have a reputation for rebellion, and their bell tower and the Castle of the Counts both bear stories that speak to this reputation. It was typical of cities to adorn their bell towers with chicken weather vanes. Ghent went a different direction, not only making the bell tower taller than that of the adjoining church but placing a golden dragon at its peak. The Castle of the Counts is an unusual one in that it is found in the city center rather than at a strategic bit of geography nearby. My guide reported that the castle was unusual in that it was designed to protect the nobility rather than the peasants of the town. Whether or not that is true, it’s worth noting that Wikipedia has a disambiguation page to determine which Revolt of Ghent one wants to learn more about. The inhabitants of the town have since been given the nickname “Noose Bearers” in memory of a humiliation meted out in the aftermath of a rebellion.
The bell tower features a small museum in the building at its base, but the day was already quite advanced. I continued to St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Since it is further from the Korenmarkt than St. Nicholas, one might think that St. Bavo’s Cathedral is less significant, but this is untrue. A quick walk around the nave will demonstrate that each chapel in St. Bavo’s is highly ornate, and one should not miss the museum down in the crypt. The church prohibits photography, but I took one snapshot down there (without a flash).
This area is all that remains of a Romanesque church dating to around 1150 AD. The crypt also contains a variety of the ceremonial clothes of church leaders. On my way back to the hotel, I snapped a photo of St. Nicholas, so conveniently close to the Korenmarkt. The tall tower at the junction of the transept and nave lets more light into this church than is common.
On the final evening of the conference, I was delighted to visit the Castle of the Counts at last (I hadn’t managed to see it during my preceding visit). It’s a brooding building. I am glad, though, that it has been restored after being bombed by the Allies in World War II. With my friend Erik Deutsch, I toured its small museum of armaments. Did you know that an executioner’s sword does not have a point? I had never realized that before.
I loved this two-handed sword in its collection, especially since I am a fan of Conan the Barbarian. This one probably dates from the sixteenth century. Erik and I had a great time at the castle ramparts, looking out at the skyline of Ghent in all directions. We were both more somber near the close of the tour at a square room used for torture right next door to a chapel with a cross-shaped window.
The touring had worn us out, though, and what better place to recuperate than a pub at the Korenmarkt? I decided to wind down with a glass of beer made from cherries!