Ghent was my favourite place in Belgium, even though I only visited on a day trip. Many websites extol its virtues nowadays and I agree. In fact, reading about it now I’d like to return and appreciate it properly.
It’s a great blend of old and new, big enough to be interesting, but small enough to be walkable. I like places with a studenty vibe as they always appear to be more vibrant and in touch with the world. Like a true student, I ate a kebab for dinner when I was there.
One super talented person from Ghent is Roa, the street artist. Little is known about the artist as muralists tend to be shy of personal exposure.
Their work is quite another thing. Roa is apparently a ‘he’ who was interested in archaeology from a young age hence why the artist now draws black and white creatures, sometimes dead animalsfrom a naturalist’s perspective.
He draws animals that are native to the area of the artwork and has pieces in London, New York, Berlin, Warsaw, Madrid, Moscow, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Paris. His online biog says: ‘Roa’s anonymity has kept his work and his spirit free.’
Roman Emperor Charles V was probably the most famous historical person to be born in Ghent. He was a Habsburg who inherited Spain and then ruled many areas of Europe, including the Netherlands, Bohemia, Hungary, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia and Spanish America.
However, he couldn’t keep control of so large a kingdom so Hernan Cortes took over Mexico and Peru was conquered by Jose Pizarro while he was in ‘power’.
He was also staunchly against Protestantism as a Roman Catholic and as this was during Martin Luther’s time the two of them locked horns. CV denounced him as a ‘heretic’ and an ‘outlaw’ but ML was protected by the invention of printing.
His criticisms of the Catholic church were written down and distributed across Europe, winning him many followers and essentially preventing a ruler from ordering his death.
The people of Ghent are nicknamed ‘Stropdagers’ because Charles used to show up rebels by making them wear a noose, known as a ‘strop’ around their necks. They rebelled against him after refused to pay his taxes.
Ghent was Europe’s largest producer of cloth in the 14th century, meaning thousands of people worked in this industry which is probably what made them such a force to be reckoned with.