#33: Explore a Castle
Blame it on my Scottish heritage, but I have a slight obsession with castles. I love how the imposing monstrosities play both villain and hero in romantically historical tales. I love motes and turrets and crenellation and meurtrière. (Yeah, I'm tossing around the word meurtrière - evidence my obsession is a bit more than "slight". I'm ok with that).
My fortress fascination brought me to Ghent, Belgium this week to explore Gravensteen Castle, a fantastically Medieval structure in the middle of the fairytale-like city of Ghent, Belgium.
I was first in line and happily paid my 10EUR entry fee to begin exploring the compound. Historically, the castle was originally built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace. Inspired by castles the count observed during the Crusades, it served as the seat of power in Ghent until the 14th Century. Abandoned by the political powerhouses, the structure was used as a prison, a courthouse, and even a factory but eventually Gravensteen fell into disrepair and was abandoned entirely.
Lucky for castle lovers like myself, Gravensteen narrowly escaped demolition in 1885, when the city of Ghent bought the castle and began the massive restoration project to breathe life back into the stone walls and reinstate its former grandeur.
And talk about grandeur!!
After paying the entrance fee, I began the self guided tour, helped along with numeral prompts to suggestively guide you. But ultimately, I was free to roam anywhere I pleased!
The very first room I discovered contained the quintessential castle character:: a suit of armor. Several of them, in fact, intermingling with Medieval weaponry. Swords? Yes. Crossbows? Oh yes. Shit that looks awfully painful but I had no idea what it was? Yes and yes!
After examining all the Knights and War Bits (fancy word: arsenal), I began my ascent up the spiral staircase to see what else I'd find, which included the famous Torture Devices. I didn't snap many photos in the Torture Room. To be honest, I found it horribly disturbing to be in the presence of items that inflicted such unimaginable pain. But god help me, it was also sooooooo fascinating - especially seeing a real, godawful guillotine.
Shaking off the menacing feeling of the "judicial objects" (so demurely named!) I skipped up another set of twisting stairs and out into the battlements to take in the stunning views of the city!
I wandered the battlements for quite a while, the only person out there (pro tip: early arrival means you miss the crowds!). I imagined what the walkway might look like, all those centuries ago, and wondered who else's footsteps had echoed on the same stones. I can really get lost in imaginary time travel but finally, I tucked back into the narrow staircase to explore a bit more of the castle's nooks and crannies:
I have to draw attention to this next photo. As I poked around, I came into this room, distinctive for it's cross ("crux") window. This once served as the personal chapel for count Philip of Alsace but, in an ominous twist, eventually became a holding cell for the tortured. I was alone in the room and, being someone very sensitive to energies, I found this area to be the most impactful. The air was thick with hundreds of years worth of emotions, nameless, faceless humans who touched the same walls as I did at that very moment. Eerie. Beautiful.
Shaking that off, too, I wandered back outside and marveled at the great history of the fortress. It's amazing to stand within the walls of a place that's stood for nearly 1000 years!
I eventually wandered back out the heavy doors and back onto the streets of Ghent, fully in awe of the stunning Gravensteen Castle. It's everything you want a castle to be and I felt like I'd been transported back in time to catch a glimpse of the past.
Thankfully, that glimpse didn't include anything else from the "judicial objects" section. But would I return to the castle someday for another visit? Well, you wouldn't have to twist my arm.
Har, har. Get it? Torture chamber jokes! No? Hm. Fine.
Summer period (1st April – 31st October): open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Winter period (1st November – 31st March): open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets are available until 45 minutes before closing time.
Closed on 24th, 25th and 31st December and 1st January.
For more info, visit their website: https://gravensteen.stad.gent/en