When it comes to following a map, there are two types of people. Type A: those who will follow a map and get to the desired place immediately. Get there as soon as possible; the end. Or, type B: those who will start with the intention of following the map- but what’s that over there? That looks interesting, let’s go and see that first!
Depending on which way you look at it, unfortunately or not, I belong to the latter. In fact, as Jordan and I were following his phone on Google Maps on some street on the outskirts of Ghent, Belgium, it was one of those ‘what’s that over there?’ moments that got us lost. And it was only an hour into being there.
What caught my eye was an antique church, across a cobble-stoned bridge over the confluence of river Lys and Scheldt. It’s easy to miss Saint Macharius Church unless you look in the right direction… As Jordan was talking about the way we were supposed to be walking in, I was already walking in another.
Across the bridge, the church bore a bright red door and long, thin aisle windows. No sign of light came shining from within them. I found myself drawn in by the careful
It’s as we’re sitting there that I realise something. It’s so quiet.
We sit facing the river Lys, a statue of a naked woman listening to music on our right. She looks downwards at the water, a hidden smile etched onto her face as she holds an earphone closer to her ear. She doesn’t seem to think it’s quiet at all.
The sun shimmers across the water in the midday, winter heat. There’s barely a breeze and no one else in sight. A row of houses flanks the river, all of them different in their own unique way. Now I’m not just talking about different colours or different shapes – Ghent isn’t another seaside town on the edges of the UK. Each establishment seems to have its own style, pristinely on display for any passer-by’s. Ghent ranges in a variety of architectural design and it was this aspect that drew me to Ghent not too long ago.
Let’s rewind a bit.
Back in October of last year, I had just bought a National Geographic Traveller magazine. I ordered my usual Chai Tea Latte from my local Starbucks and started to flick through the glossy pages. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular- I was actually using the magazine to study from. But just a few pages in, a short, inspiring article from Connor McGovern caught my attention. Although there weren’t many pictures of the buildings or general area, it was enough to lure me in. Five months later and I was in the middle of Ghent, cyclists rolling past me as I stared up at the medieval St Bavo’s Cathedral.
Stretching tall in front of me, this structure represents a long timeline of architectural design. All the way from the 10th century, the Cathedral still features its classic Romanesque arches and simplistic geometric shapes. Paired with the 14th to 16th century’s Gothic touch, the structure shows off elegant detail in its pinnacles and fleurons. Overall, the use of natural stone of the edifice is a form of Brabantian Gothic architecture. However, its long aisle windows are also very reminiscent of Baroque architecture, which spread across Europe in the late 16th century. These four styles create an aesthetic that can be seen throughout the medieval city of Ghent- and as I turn round, there’s further evidence across the square.
Standing directly opposite is The Belfry. At this point, my neck is aching, but I walk across the square in awe anyway. At the very top of one of the pinnacles sits a small dragon breathing golden flame; the main mascot for this beautiful city. This edifice is a homage to the Brabantine Gothic style with its straight-forward, natural stone look. A golden clock face hangs not too far below the Belfry dragon – I find that I love the gold contrast against the grey, ageing brickwork. These aureate touches also
As soon as we walk over to it, I’m imagining of the possibility of vampires hiding inside. This structure has a more practical design that is common for Austere Gothic depictions, with its main feature being the tower which crosses over the transepts and naves, rather than standing as its own tower. Due to its large windows, pointed turrets and abundance of intricate tracery, the Church brings in hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists to Ghent alone. It’s astounding. But that’s not all. Apart from this trio of architectural magnificence, there are hundreds of beautifully designed constructions that could have come straight from the scenes of an old Disney princess movie.
Although the majority of the houses and shops here are built with a Gothic touch, Renaissance features can also be seen. Houses tend to be small and tightly packed together on long, winding roads. Walk down any road and you’re able to view a range of elegant masonry; shell motifs, windows framed with square lintels and even occasional decorative keystones. Often times, they also have a rectangular shaped roof or front of house, and small indented arches to frame other details of each building. It’s a perfect concoction of traditional and modern architecture. What’s more, colours and textures vary no matter where you go- no two road looks the same in Ghent.
Maybe we’re bad at directions, but there were times during our adventure that we found the streets looking so unusual that we would get lost within them. Even our GPS couldn’t locate us. And in situations like these too, there are two types of people. Type A: those who panic and run frantically in all directions, trying to find a place of recognition as soon as possible. Or, type B: those who smile at the unrecognisable, and find themselves exploring further. Depending on which way you look at it, unfortunately, or not, I belong to the latter. And man, did I have fun doing it.
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