CONCISE HISTORY OF A STUBBORN CITY
The history of Ghent begins in the year 630, when St Amandus chose the site of the confluence (or ‘Ganda’) of the two rivers, the Lys and the Scheldt, to construct an abbey. Nearly 1400 years of history are still palpable in the city today: a medieval castle surrounded by a moat, an imposing cathedral, a belfry, three beguinages... Nowhere else does one find so much history per square metre than in the historical heart of Ghent!
From the year 1000 to around 1550, Ghent was one of the most important cities in Europe. It was bigger than London and second only to Paris in size. The 60,000 inhabitants it had in the 14th century clung forcefully to their rights: earls and princes discovered that the proud and rebellious people of Ghent would not relinquish their hard-won privileges and freedoms without a fight.
Until the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302, the city was ruled by a number of rich merchant families. Because they mostly chose the side of the French king against the Count of Flanders, the people gave them the nickname ‘Leliaerts’, derived from the lily on the French coat of arms. As the trades and guilds gained more political power in the 14th century, Ghent came to acquire a more democratic government.
Because England blocked the import of raw materials for the vitally important textile industry, Ghent was forced, by sheer necessity, to take England’s side (1338-1345) during the Hundred Years’ War. Jacob van Artevelde, a rich cloth merchant, led the uprising against Count Louis de Nevers, the vassal of the French king. In 1345, this ‘wise man’ was murdered by his fellow citizens. His importance is shown by the fact that Ghent is still called the ‘City of Artevelde’.
Ghent had to give up its ties with England and embrace the king of France. In 1407 the seat of the Council of Flanders, the highest judicial body in the county, was moved from Bruges to the Castle of the Counts. Dutch became the official language.
Over the centuries the inhabitants of Ghent remained true to their reputation of being headstrong and awkward. They even rebelled against their own child prince, Charles V. But that was a bridge too far: the citizens of Ghent were publicly humiliated and the Klokke Roeland, the symbol of Ghent’s independence, was removed from the Belfry. The once powerful city-state had literally and figuratively fallen to its knees.
The economic situation also gradually worsened. The city lost its passage to the sea and the population decreased by half. Only in the second half of the 18th century was there an economic revival. In 1816, under Dutch administration, Ghent acquired its own university and ten years later the city again became a sea port thanks to the Ghent-Terneuzen canal.
Nevertheless, Ghent still continued to sail against the tide: during Belgium’s independence struggle many inhabitants remained loyal to the Dutch House of Orange. Ghent later became the continent’s first large industrial centre. As a result, it was here that the socialist movement and the first trade union associations appeared.
In 1913, Ghent showed its best side during the World Exhibition. Because it suffered little bomb damage during the two world wars, Ghent’s historical heritage has remained largely intact right up to the present.
As you’ll be able to see with your own eyes…
ERASMUS OF ROTTERDAM
Desiderius Erasmus was born in the 15th century under the name of Geert Geerts. He was an illegitimate child born out of wedlock: his father was a priest from Gouda and his mother was the priest’s housekeeper. Both his father and his mother died at a young age. After their death, the legal guardianship of the young Erasmus was bestowed upon the Stein monastery near Gouda. This is where he was given the opportunity to develop himself as an intellectual by reading plenty of books. Later on in his life, he would go on to study abroad in Paris, Leuven and Italy. He would become a priest and eventually a Doctor in Theology.
Erasmus was in awe of Ghent. He visited the city on a regular basis and had several friends who lived here, amongst whom Robert De Keysere. De Keysere owned a printer that published several humanistic works and a Latin school. This Latin school was located in the Lintworm, where the hostel is nowadays. Erasmus visited this school and praised the education system in place, which had received criticism from others.
The Erasmus student exchange programme is named after this famous philospher.
Philip II was King of Spain, Naples, Sicily, the Habsburgs Netherlands and Portugal. He was the only son of emperor Charles V (King of Spain under the title of Charles I) and Isabella of Portugal. He ruled over the largest colonial empire of the sixteenth century. As a result, he disposed over substantial funds to battle the Islamic Ottoman Turks and the Protestant Reformation as defender of the Catholic faith.
In the Netherlands (which also included Flanders), there were a series of revolts due to high tax pressure, the infringement of the traditional power/jurisdictions of the regions and the anti-heretic 'plakkaten' (ordonnances) that started during the era of Charles V. These revolts reached their climax during the 'Beeldenstorm', a series of iconoclastic attacks that involved the large-scale destruction of religious images and liturgical objects. Philip II responded by sending over the infamous Duke of Alva to pacify the revolts. Alva acted mercilessly and consequently, his reign was met with violent outbursts of protest. The Counts of Egmont and of Horn, two of the most prominent noblemen, were decapitated on the Grand Place in Brussels. William, Prince of Orange, managed to escape to Germany just in time. Many other noblemen followed suit.
Philip II had been a guest of the Count of Egmont in Ghent before. He and his party of 400 men resided in the Court of Fiennes and the Lintworm (the present-day hostel).
LAMORAL OF EGMONT
Lamoral of Egmont was commander-in-chief of the Spanish troops in the Netherlands. Their headquarters were located in Ghent. He was also the steward of Flanders and of Artois. The Count of Egmont owned a residence in Ghent, known as the Court of Fiennes or the Court of Gruuthuuse. This residence was adjacent to the stone house ‘Lintworm’, which is the same building as the present-day hostel.
As steward, Egmont received the new King of Spain, Philip II, in Ghent in the year of 1556 and 1559. Philip II had brought along a part of 400 men for the occasion. However, the Count of Egmont’s abode, the Court of Fiennes, was too small to receive such a large party. Therefore, the Count temporarily rented the buildings adjacent to his own residence, amongst which the Lintworm, in order to accommodate all the courtiers.
Egmont was falsely accused of high treason and was put to death in 1568 by the Duke of Alva. The famous Egmont Overture by Ludwig von Beethoven narrates the Count of Egmont’s life story and his remarkable heroic courage.
Over ten centuries ago, the foundations were laid for the building where Hostel Uppelink currently stands. Throughout its history, the building was expanded and adapted to its ever-changing purpose, until it took on the appearance in 1909 that it still has today.
The medieval builders ordered expensive limestone that was supplied from Tournai over the river Scheldt. The tall building with its imposing façade (a ‘stone house’) had a strategic location: it overlooked the St Michael’s Bridge and the road to Bruges. The powerful patricians who took residence in the building protected themselves from rivaling families behind the building’s robust walls with merlons.
Around the fifteenth century, the influential and wealthy residents gave the right-hand side of the building its namesake, Lintworm. This word, ‘lintworm’ (tapeworm), had entirely different connotation in the Middle Ages. Back then, a tapeworm was a mythical creature that appeared in the shape of a giant snake, a dragon or a crocodile and it symbolized force, power and invincibility. It comes as no surprise that these patricians readily identified with this creature.
Around 1500, the year in which Charles V was born in the Prinsenhof in Ghent, Robert De Keysere took up residence at the Lintworm. The city of Ghent was at its peak: commerce was booming and culturally, the city was regarded as the centre of the Renaissance humanism movement. De Keysere, a humanist himself, contributed to this cultural efflorescence. He already owned a large printer at the Korenlei and he also founded a Latin school at the Lintworm, where the classics were studied. Erasmus of Rotterdam, a friend of Dekeysere’s, visited the school in the fall of 1503 and was impressed by its high-standard academic level. When Philip II, King of Spain and son of Charles V, visited the city of Ghent in 1556 and in 1559, the Count of Egmont made arrangements for the monarch and his company of four hundred people to reside at the Lintworm during their stay.
The building next to the Lintworm served as the workshop of a cobbler for a long period. The other side of the property, at the side of the St Michael’s Church, was known as the ‘Carre’ in the fourteenth century. For a long time, it was an inn for grain merchants. Later on, the city administration repurposed the ‘Carre’ to be a base for collecting taxes on the brewing of beer. In the context of this operation, a cooperative of 'biervoerders and bierdragers' (ale merchants and ale carriers) was set up in the sixteenth century. Thirty men were given the order to carry all the beer that was brewed in Ghent down to the beer cellars under the stairs of the Lintworm. As a consequence, the entire building was renamed to ‘Keytekelder’, after an old, strong ale that was originally brewed with water from a well underneath the building. This well still exists to this day, but the water is undrinkable.
From 1675 onwards, the 'biervoerderhuis' (merchant ale house) fell into the hands of the Church and served as a presbytery of the St Michael’s Parish for a century. Afterwards, the building was sold publically to private individuals. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a part of the property had to give way to the widening of the bridge, the current Sint-Michielshelling. What used to be a proud ‘stone house’, was gradually transformed into a run-of-the-mill whitewashed town house, housing several cafés and a restaurant.
In the run-up to the world exposition that was to take place in Ghent in 1913, both the Graslei and the Korenlei were ‘refurbished’ to give them a medieval character. The white townhouse on the corner was a ruin by that time and was intended to be demolished. However, the construction of the new St Michael’s Bridge unearthed the original construction layers. Under the pressure of an action committee, the building was almost entirely rebuilt to partly look like an authentic thirteenth century fortified castle. After the world exposition, the renovated stone house became the decadent abode of the pastor of the St Michael’s Church.
In 1958, the building was sold publically and in 1979, the Graaf van Egmond restaurant opened for business. After thorough renovation work following the closure of the restaurant in 2008, Hostel Uppelink was officially opened in September 2012.