Ghent Lights Up Belgium

Ghent at night.

Ghent at night.

The last two years I wrote two long blogs on the beautiful Belgium cities of Ghent and Bruges. This past week Michael’s brother David and his wife, Joyce, visited us in Utrecht (which they loved). However since they also wanted to see a bit of Belgium, we recommended Ghent and Bruges. And so, we returned to both over the course of several days. Rather than repeat all the history and information I’d written in the earlier blog on Ghent, I will comment a bit on some sights we didn’t see before (and maybe recap just a bit). Anyone interested can go back and look at the earlier blog for a more thorough coverage of the city’s history (

First and foremost, I think both Ghent and Bruges are two of the most beautiful cities in Europe, if not the world. What most people don’t realize, however, is how much more there is to see in Ghent than its sister city, just 30-40 minutes away. Moreover, Ghent is absolutely spectacular by night.  If the opening picture above didn’t knock your socks off, then you’re hopeless as a cynic or just unappreciative of the pure beauty of man’s ingenuity in architecture and light  forged with nature.


One of my favorite sights St. Michael's cathedral.

One of my favorite sights St. Michael’s cathedral.

he "Big Three," the towers of (from front to back) St.  Nicholas, the Belfort, ad St. Bavos. The latter's tower is under construction so is not lit.

The “Big Three,” the towers of (from front to back) St. Nicholas, the Belfort, ad St. Bavos. The latter’s tower is under reconstruction so is not lit.

This remarkable lighting of  Ghent’s major buildings, canals and squares is no accident. Several years ago, the city contracted with internationally renowned lighting designer Roland Jéol to develop a plan to highlight the beautiful and varied architecture and monuments of Ghent. What I find interesting is the city specifically instructed Jéol that the resultant lighting should not cause ambient light pollution, and must be energy efficient. The results are stunning, and my pictures simply do not do sufficient justice.

It would seem a great number of people agree with this assessment. The lighting plan has won Ghent several international awards, including the International City People Light Award in 2004. Michelin has given the lights display a three star rating. Thousands of people have flocked to Ghent in the dead of winter for the Annual Ghent Light Festival, first held in January, 2011.  For this annual festival, additional artists and lighting designers contribute their expertise and have created some amazing light displays that go far beyond the relatively simple, year-round night lighting scheme of Jéol. While the design by Jéol is all in white lights illuminating only the exterior of buildings, the annual festival uses multi-colored lighting both inside and outside some structures, as well as multi-media (audio, animation, computer graphics) to create an amazing light show. The picture below gives you just a hint of the spectacular displays at the 2012 festival. If you have the time, go to the following links and look at the videos and pictures of the 2012 festival. The first link is to a (hand-held) video showing the rainbow of three dimensional lighting in St. Nicholas Cathedral is stunning. The second link is a different video of another, multi-media light show from 2012.  They are all well worth the time.

Go to the following links for additional pictures.

 A couple of other new things we learned in this trip to Ghent:

Manneken Pis of Ghent

On a boat trip through the rivers and canals of Ghent, the tour guide pointed out a small bronze statue mounted over the front door of a house, posed to urinate on the public below.

The Manneken Pis of Ghent

The Manneken Pis of Ghent

He explained that the“Mannekin Pis” in Brussels is world famous, but few know of the manneken pis of Ghent. He claimed that young boys were hired to pee on newly skinned hides because their urine helped cure the hides into leather. He claimed the “Mannekin Pis” was on this particular house because it had once been (or built on the site of) a tannery.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything on-line that supported that theory. However, another source, from a Ghent City tourist site, said that the  most likely explanation was that the little boy pissing was a symbol of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and that the house the small statue was mounted upon had been a wine merchant’s house. I leave it to all of you to decide which story you like better.


In our last visit, we missed entering St. Nicholas Church, pictured above (also the multi-lit cathedral featured in the 2012 Festival). The nave is still being restored, but we were able to enter the upper nave apse, and chapels of the cathedral. Inside was a design/textile exhibit, entitled “Comme des Soeurs,” loosely translated as “Like the Sisters,” as in nuns. Apparently, several Belgian design students had traced the  history of Catholic religious orders’ dress, and produced a fashion line of perceptual creations based on traditional religious clothing. The accompanying plaque described the thought process as well as genesis of this “mode,” explaining the students found far more color, patterns and style in traditional nuns’ and fathers’ habits than had been heretofore thought. Of course, there is always artistic license used in any interpretation, and some of the fashions were quite imaginative as well as creative. We found the  different fashions the students designed entirely fascinating. The pictures that follow are pretty much the entire exhibit.



The headphones are small prayer books.

The headphones are small prayer books.


Detail of coat "clasp"

Detail of coat “clasp


Pretty interesting collection, n’est-ce pas?

Next post: Bruges (mostly in pictures).


2 thoughts on “Ghent Lights Up Belgium

    • Thanks, Veronica! I took all photos except the one of the cathedral in colored lights, which I gave credits to (I hope they were clear). The Canon G15 is the next generation to the G12 YOU introduced me to last year. It’s a cross between the P&S and SLR but is not as bulky(or qite as good as an SLR) but can go from fully auto to manual. I still haven’t figured it all out but it’s a great camera – thanks for the intro to it!

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