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The story of Ghent

in 15 objects

No time or don’t feel like exploring ‘The Story of Ghent’ from A to Z? From now on, with the help of our brand new practical guide, you can follow a ‘quicktour’ through 15 unique and must-see objects at STAM. It’s compact, fast and on top of that, perfectly justified contentwise!

Available for free at the start of your visit at the front desk.

Gallerie 1: Emerging city

1 boomstamwaterput

1. Tree trunk well

ca 876-900

The early medieval farmers of The Loop cut down a large oak tree in the winter of 876-877. They hollowed out the trunk and put it in the ground: a well.

When was Ghent founded? Who were its first inhabitants? As far back as 70.000 years ago, people roamed the region where the Scheldt and the Lys rivers meet in search of food and shelter. But it would be millennia before they settled here—and longer still before we can speak of a city.

Lender: Dienst Stadsarcheologie en Monumentenzorg, Gent

2 Latei Sint Baafsabdij

2. Lintel

ca 1160

This lintel spanned a doorway in Saint Bavo’s Abbey.

In around 630, a missionary arrived from the south of France. His name was Amandus and he was resolved to convert the people to Christianity. He founded Saint Peter’s Abbey—his residence—on the Blandijnberg. In Ganda, Amandus built a church that eventually became Saint Bavo’s Abbey.

Lender: Historische Huizen, Gent

3 de zoon die zijn vader onthoofdt

3. The Son who Must Behead his Father

Early 17th century - Pieter Pieters

This gruesome event is taking place on Hoofdbrug (Head Bridge), also known as Onthoofdingsbrug (Beheading Bridge), near the Castle of the Counts. The bridge served as an execution site until the 16th century.

In the early 10th century, the Count of Flanders built a wooden fortress between two branches of the river Lys. A century later, it was transformed into the stone Castle of the Counts by one of his descendants. The count governed his country from here.

STAM's collection

4 vaandel

4. Cloth display

Settlements grew around the abbeys of Saint Bavo and Saint Peter, at the place where Saint Bavo’s Cathedral stands today, and on the banks of the Lys near the Castle of the Counts. In the 10th century, the hamlets merged to form a medieval city. In the centuries that followed, Ghent expanded in size and power. It owed its prosperity to the cloth industry. Together with other major Flemish cities, Ghent was one of the European trade leaders.

5 grafplaten

5. Grave plates of Willem Wenemaer and Margaretha Sbrunen

14th century

Willem Wenemaer and his wife Margaretha Sbrunen were patricians from a family of wealthy cloth merchants.

A few wealthy Ghent families, the patricians, were lords of all they surveyed. They controlled politics and the trade in wool and cloth. They lived cloistered behind stone walls: impressive masonry houses with battlements. Their homes looked like castles.

STAM's collection

Gallerie 3: Metropolis

6 Panoramisch gezicht op Gent

6. Panoramic View of Ghent

1534 – painter unknown

The city was expanding. In the 14th century, Ghent was one of the largest cities in Northwest Europe. It covered 732 hectares of land and had a circumference of over 13 kilometres. Long ribbon developments stretched out to the surrounding villages. Wastewater leached into channels and rivers that served as waterways for shipping. The city council invested heavily in this transport network.

STAM's collection

7 Krijgsvaandel met de Maagd en de Leeuw van Gent

7. Battle banner with the Virgin and the Lion of Ghent

15th century – attributed to Agnes Vanden Bossche

This banner was the Ghent militia’s battle standard.

Ghent was now rich and powerful. It even had its own army. This allowed it to dominate the surrounding villages and rival cities. Since the city was determined to set its own ambitious course, armed conflict with the Counts of Flanders was inevitable.

STAM's collection

8 Buste van Keizer Karel V

8. Bust of Emperor Charles V

ca 1515-1519 - After Conrad Meit

In 1337, a rebellion led by Jacob van Artevelde triggered a long period of unrest. At first, the Ghent militias had the upper hand—but they were no match for the Burgundian dukes. In 1453, Ghent’s defeat on the battlefield by Philip the Good was decisive. The final blow came in 1540. Emperor Charles V eradicated town privileges. He built a fortress in order to keep Ghent in check.

Lender: Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Gent

9 Relief van het ambachtshuis van de vrije schippers

9. Carved relief from the Free Boatmen’s guildhall

Plaster cast (1895) of the original in stone (1531).

Ghent’s strategic position on a network of waterways allowed the city to become a trade hub for the Low Countries. The inner harbour bustled with activity. Grain from Northern France flowed in and out of the city in enormous quantities along the Lys and Scheldt rivers. The transport sector flourished, led by the Free Boatmen’s guild.

Lender: Historische Huizen, Gent

Gallerie 5: Resilient city

9 Processietoorts

10. Procession torches

17th and 18th century

From 1600 onwards, Ghent was no longer a rebellious city. The city’s autonomy had been curtailed. The political might of the guilds was now a distant memory. Antagonism gave way to ceremony. Rulers honoured the city with formal state visits. Trades people and guilds formed part of the festive welcoming party. Symbols and rituals left no doubt about what the city and the monarchy expected from each other.

STAM's collection

11 Timpaan van het Rasphuis

11. Tympanum from Rasphuis prison

ca. 1824-1826

In the 18th century, the gap between rich and poor was growing. Increasing numbers of homeless people filled the streets. The city and church attempted to tackle the problem. But only those who were considered pious and virtuous received any help. Impoverished people who were seen as lazy or a nuisance were given short shrift. Their lot was that of the beggar – or imprisonment in Rasphuis prison, where they got “re-educated”. In fact, they were forced labourers and kept in degrading conditions.

STAM's collection

12 Het graven van de Brugse Vaart

12. Het graven van de Brugse Vaart

1753 - Jan Anton Garemijn

Tijdens de Tachtigjarige Oorlog gaat de Schelde op slot. Transport over de Sassevaart verloopt moeilijk. De aartshertogen Albrecht en Isabella trekken het verkeer weer vlot. Dankzij hun steun komt er een kanaal van Gent naar Brugge.
De Oostenrijkse keizerin Maria-Theresia ruimt ook hindernissen voor de binnenscheepvaart: dankzij coupures kunnen grote schepen direct doorvaren. Vanaf 1750 is Gent opnieuw de draaischijf van het transitverkeer in de Lage Landen. Pakhuizen puilen uit van de exotische koopwaar. De stad lijkt wel een zeehaven.

Lender: Musea Brugge – Groeningemuseum

Gallerie 7: Unbridled city

13 Foto beluik

13. Photograph of a slum

Late 19th century - Edmond Sacré

Industry spread across the city. Disused monasteries were turned into factories. Even the Castle of the Counts was filled with the noise of machinery. As the 19th century progressed, activities shifted to the outskirts. Thousands of impoverished working-class families were forced to live in slums and hovels, ravaged by deadly diseases such as typhoid and cholera.

KIK-IRPA, Brussel

14 Spotbeelden pater en non

14. Satirical statuettes of a monk and a nun (1878)


A complaining nun and a cursing monk who is scratching his head. They have just read that the liberals won the elections.

Factory owners made fortunes; workers lived in misery. Men, women and even children toiled in inhuman conditions in return for starvation wages. The workers held strikes and demonstrated for more rights. They united in a movement that was fast moving towards socialism.

Alongside social tensions, there were also ideological clashes: Catholics against anti-clericals, conservative clergy against radical freethinkers, Orangists against Belgian patriots, and the Gallicised bourgeoisie against the Flemish Movement.

Lender: Liberas, Gent

15 Handdruk beeldmerk van Flanders Technology

15. Handshake, the Flanders Technology logo


A handshake between human and robot, the centrepiece of the Flanders Technology International technology fair.

Prosperity increased in Ghent following the Second World War. Locals had more disposable income, and not just for material things. They were interested in culture and recreation, including the cinema, theatre and art. Football and bicycle racing became immensely popular.

Today, Ghent has over 260,000 inhabitants from some 150 countries. It remains an industrial and port city but is also a multifaceted regional centre. The university, colleges of further education and a thriving cultural scene fuel the creative economy.

Lender: Technopolis, Mechelen

Ghent City Museum

Godshuizenlaan 2 - 9000 Gent
09 267 14 00

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