November 26, 2012


Gravensteen Castle (Dutch: Gravensteen, literally: "castle of the count") is a medieval castle in Ghent, Belgium. It is the only medieval castle in Flanders, defensive system of which has remained virtually untouched to this day.
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The present castle was built in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace (was Count of Flanders from 1168 to 1191). The counts of Flanders had built castles in the principal cities of the county. Because they had to maintain law and order, they continuously had to move from one city to the other. Therefore, they disposed of a castle in most cities where they wanted to stay for a few months. The castle of Ghent is the only one which survived the centuries more or less intact.

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Name: Gravensteen,  
Het Gravensteen

Location: Ghent
Province: East Flanders

Region: Flemish Region
Country: Belgium

Type:  Lowland castle

Construction: 1180-1200

Condition: opened to the public

Archeological excavations have proved that three fortified castles constructed in wood must have stood on the site of today's Gravensteen. The first fortifications on this site were probably built by Baldwin I "Iron Arm" in 807 during the time of Charlemagne. The fortifications were intended for protection against Viking raids. At the beginning of 10th century Count Arnulf I ordered a full rebuild the castle. All the structures were made of wood and arranged around a large building, built on a fortified hill. In 1128, there was the first serious siege of the castle by the supporters of Thierry of Alsace. During of this siege, the castle was seriously damaged.
In the middle of the 12th century, under the leadership of Count Robert I the Frisian, the fortress was once again thoroughly rebuilt. In place of the wooden building in the center, there was a three-story stone tower (Donjon) (33 to 18.8 m) with three ceremonial halls, monumental stone staircase, stoves and latrines, which was a sign of luxury. Later, the castle was rebuilt again, but it was damaged by a fire in 1176.
Gravensteen in the form, which can be seen today, was built by Count Philip I of Alsace in 1180. Then was expanded the main hall, the castle was surrounded by a wall with 24 towers and dug a moat around it. In those turbulent times for Ghent, the majestic Gravensteen symbolized the power of the Counts of Flanders and served as a kind of counterweight to the high houses of the nobility, which were located on the other bank of the river Leie.
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The castle served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until 14th century, when they moved back out of the castle and lived in the Prince's in Ghent. However, the castle has retained its administrative function in the county Flanders.
In 1353, the castle was used as the Ghent mint. Since 1407, in the castle were located County Superior Court, the Council of Flanders, as well as a prison. The Council was located in the castle until 1778, when Gravensteen began to sell to the public. As a result, since 1807, the main tower of the castle was used as a textile factory. In the remaining buildings, the factory workers lived with their families. As a result, the state of the castle was very poor. At the end of the 19th century, the castle was scheduled to be demolished.
In 1894, the value of the Gravensteen for the city was reviewed. Local nobility and the city council gradually bought it out of private hands. In 1895, was started the restoration work under the direction of architect Joseph de Vale. The newly built houses were removed and the walls and dungeon were restored to their original condition. Although some details, such as, flat roofs and windows of the east wing of the building, were not typical of the medieval buildings. Therefore, people argue whether the castle can still be considered authentic.

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Despite the fact that in the 20th century, Gravensteen has become one of the most frequently visited sites in Ghent, the keeping of the castle in good condition has received little attention. Moreover, compared with other major residencies medieval rulers of Northern Europe, Gravensteen been the least studied and known. All this has led to the fact that the castle again went into decline.
Only in 1980, when Gravensteen celebrated its 800th anniversary, the castle was re-evaluated. After careful consideration of condition the castle, experts have developed a multiphase program of restoration and strengthening of buildings, which has been successfully completed. The castle has been repaired enough to allow people to travel through it and climb on top. It is still partly surrounded by the moat. Inside the castle there is a museum with various torture devices (and a guillotine) that were historically used in Ghent.  

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