Ghent (Dutch: Gent; French: Gand; German: Gent) is a city and a municipality in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province and after Antwerp the largest municipality of Belgium. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Leie and in the Late Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe, with some 50,000 people in 1300. It is a port and university city.
The municipality comprises the city of Ghent proper and the surrounding towns of Afsnee, Desteldonk, Drongen, Gentbrugge, Ledeberg, Mariakerke, Mendonk, Oostakker, Sint-Amandsberg, Sint-Denijs-Westrem, Sint-Kruis-Winkel, Wondelgem and Zwijnaarde. With 240,191 inhabitants in the beginning of 2009, Ghent is Belgium’s second largest municipality by number of inhabitants. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 1,205 km2 and has a total population of 594,582 as of 1 January 2008, which ranks it as the fourth most populous in Belgium. The ten-day-long Ghent Festival (Gentse Feesten in Dutch) is held every year and attended by about 1–1.5 million visitors.
Much of the city's medieval architecture remains intact and is remarkably well preserved and restored. Its centre is the largest carfree area in Belgium. Highlights are the Saint Bavo Cathedral with the famous Ghent Altarpiece, the belfry, the Gravensteen castle, and the splendid architecture along the old Graslei harbour. Ghent has established a blend between comfort of living and history; it is not a city-museum.
The city of Ghent also houses three béguinages and numerous churches including Saint-Jacob’s church, Saint-Nicolas’ church, Saint Michael’s church and St. Stefanus. In the 19th century Ghent’s most famous architect, Louis Roelandt, built the university hall Aula, the opera house and the main courthouse. Highlights of modern architecture are the university buildings (the Boekentoren or Book Tower) by Henry Van de Velde. There are also a few theatres from diverse periods.The beguinages, as well as the belfry and adjacent cloth hall, were recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1998 and 1999. The Zebrastraat, a social experiment in which an entirely renovated site unites living, economy and culture, can also be found in Ghent. Campo Santo is a famous Catholic burial site of the nobility and artists.
Important museums in Ghent are the Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Museum of Fine Arts), with paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens, and many Flemish masters; the SMAK or Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (City Museum for Contemporary Art), with works of the 20th century, including Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol; and the Design Museum Gent with masterpieces of Victor Horta and Le Corbusier. The Huis van Alijn (House of the Alijn family) was originally a beguinage and is now a museum for folk art where theatre and puppet shows for children are presented.
The Museum voor Industriële Archeologie en Textiel or MIAT displays the industrial strength of Ghent with recreations of workshops and stores from the 1800s and original spinning and weaving machines that remain from the time when the building was a weaving mill. The Ghent City Museum (Stadsmuseum, abbreviated STAM), is committed to recording and explaining the city’s past and its inhabitants, and to preserving the present for future generations.