I had no expectations of Ghent. The one focus I had was on the altarpiece and everything else has been a bonus. And what a bonus - the city is, frankly, glorious on every level. The people are kind, friendly, helpful and patient. The buildings are architecturally stunning. The city centre is compact and fun to mooch around. The museums are fabulous. The food is incredible. The weather is gorgeous, the public transport clean, cheap and fit for purpose, and best of all, it turns out that the people of Ghent are rebels, which I love.
Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, was born in Ghent In 1500. And when he came back to the city in 1540 and decided to restrict the freedoms of the citizens and increase their taxes they rose up in rebellion against him. In order to punish them, he forced dozens of Ghent dignitaries to wear hair shirts and nooses round their necks, and forced them on to their knees, before decapitating some and burning one to death.
These days, the people of Ghent informally call themselves “Noose bearers” and proudly commemorate the event https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolt_of_Ghent_(1539%E2%80%931540).
Although a completely different story, it reminded me of the monkey hangers of Hartlepool and that notion of taking pride in negative or humiliating stories and them becoming embedded into the culture of towns and cities. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_hanger.
Why does Hartlepool celebrate the monkey hanging story? Why has the humiliation of a failed revolt become something for the people of Ghent to associate themselves with? To the point of having a beer called Gentse Strop which celebrates the noose bearers, or Hartlepool Utd having a mascot called Hangus the Monkey?
I can’t answer the question but I am intrigued by it, and I love towns and cities that stand up for themselves and have a sense of humour. Ghent is a city with a tourist industry, rather than a tourist city, and its earthiness, industrial past and feistiness all help make it a stunningly good place to visit.