Belfry of Ghent
The 91-metre-high belfry of Ghent is one of three medieval towers that overlook the old city centre of Ghent, Belgium, the other two belonging to Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas' Church. Its height makes it the tallest belfry in existence. Through the centuries, it has served not only as a bell tower to announce the time and various warnings, but also as a fortified watchtower and town treasury.
Construction of the tower began in 1313 to the design of master mason Jan van Haelst, whose plans are still preserved in a museum. After continuing intermittently through wars, plagues and political turmoil, the work reached completion in 1380. It was near the end of this period that the gilded dragon, brought from Bruges, assumed its place atop the tower. The uppermost parts of the building have been rebuilt several times, in part to accommodate the growing number of bells.
The primary bell in the tower, Roland, was the one used by citizens to warn of an enemy approaching or a battle won. "Roland has become almost a person to the people of Belgium. He is a patriot, a hero, a leader in all rebellion against unrighteous authority." Upon conquering Ghent that had risen against, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor ordered the removal of Roland. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow referred to Roland in one of his poems:
Till the bell of Ghent responded o'er lagoon and dike of sand,
I am Roland! I am Roland! there is victory in the land!
The bell is also the primary character in the city's anthem, in which the bell calls fire or calls upon the townspeople and the heroes to fight for the land.
Cloth hall and Mammelokker
The rectangular hall adjoining the belfry was built to headquarter the affairs of the cloth trade that made the city rich during the Middle Ages. Inside, woollens were officially inspected and measured; transactions were negotiated. As the cloth industry lost importance, the hall drew new occupants, including a militia guild and a fencing school. The cloth hall's construction started in 1425 and ended 20 years later, with only seven of eleven planned bays completed. In 1903, the structure was extended by four bays in accordance with the original plan.
A small annex dating from 1741, called the Mammelokker, served as the entrance and guard's quarters of the city jail that occupied part of the old cloth hall from 1742 to 1902. The name refers to the sculpture of Roman Charity poised high above the front doorway. It depicts the Roman legend of a prisoner, Cimon, who is sentenced to death by starvation, but survives and ultimately gains his freedom thanks to his daughter Pero, a wet nurse who secretly breastfeeds him during her visits.
- Dunton, Larkin (1896). The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. p. 162.