Just across the square from the cathedral, in the heart of Ghent, the richly ornate Gothic Cloth Hall and Belfry tower above it together form a glorious medieval ensemble. The Cloth Hall, dating from 1425 to 1445 (though the finishing touches weren't added until 1903), is where cloth was stored and traded, and was the gathering place of wool and cloth merchants. A baroque extension from 1741 was used as a prison, known as De Mammelokker (The Suckler), from a relief above the doorway that depicts the legend of Cimon, starving to death in prison, being suckled by his daughter Pero. Appropriately enough, this newer section is now the offices of the city's Ombudsvrouw (Ombudswoman).
A World Heritage site, the Belfry, dating from 1314 to 1338, is 91m (295 ft.) high and has a gilded copper dragon at its summit. It holds the great bells that have rung out Ghent's civic pride down through the centuries, the most beloved being a 1315 giant known as Roeland, destroyed by Charles V in 1540 as a punishment for Ghent's latest act of insubordination. Pieter Hemony, the noted 17th-century Dutch bell-founder, cast 37 of the 54 bells that now make up the huge carillon from the remains of Roeland. The carillon rings out in concert each Friday and Sunday from 11:30am to 12:30pm. The massive Triomphante, cast in 1659 to 1660 to replace the favorite, now rests in a small park at the foot of the Belfry, still bearing the crack it sustained in 1914. Take the elevator up to the Belfry's upper gallery, 66m (215 ft.) high, to see both the bells and a fantastic panoramic view of the city. A great iron chest was kept in the Belfry's Secret to hold the all-important charters that spelled out privileges the guilds and the burghers of medieval Ghent wrested from the counts of Flanders.
- © Frommer's 2013
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