18 May ’04, Tuesday. There were a number of sites and walks that we wanted to take before we left Ghent. Again, we caught the bus into town center and taking our trusty guide (a pamphlet acquired at the campgrounds) we took the unguided city tour. Our first stop was Ghent’s Belfry. The 14th century Belfry symbolizes the harsh battle of the Ghent people for liberty, independence, democracy and social justice. The clock and the chiming of bells regulated each aspect of daily life. From the opening and shutting of the city gates to even announcing the militia to be called up. Work to build the Belfry started in 1313 and took about 18 months to complete. The ringing of the bells is done by a large drum that operates exactly like a drum music box and is activated every 15 minutes. When the mechanical clocking device gives it’s notice that the time has arrived for the chimes to commence, the drum starts to roll. As the strikers that are positioned on the drum (and they do move these around every 6 months to produce a new melody) strike a pin, then that pin pulls a rope and the rope pulls the striker on the bell to sound. We had arrived just 10 minutes prior to the striking of the bells at noon. The bells can also be rung by a carillon. Beautiful experience…. At the very top of the Belfry was positioned a Art-Nouveau-like iron and copper dragon.
The first dragon was placed into position on March 31st, 1544. It has been re-built at least 6 times if not more. Originally it did spit fire from it’s mouth. The last dragon to be put into position was done with the help of a helicopter and was set on the spire in 1980. Our climb to the bell tower covered 90 meters (that is a lot with all of it small winding stairs in a very narrow passage). We visited the ornate opera house,
city hall, the Sikkel, St Michaels, and much more. It was a very full day. We even purchased what we needed to make a great lunch that we ate sitting on the bank of the Leie. Tomorrow….Laarne.