The Flanders region of northern Belgium has an interesting mix of historic architecture – from the 12th to 19th centuries.
From the 11th to 13th centuries, Ghent was the second biggest town in Europe, thanks to flourishing mercantile activities. Amongst the earliest surviving buildings from this period are the markets and warehouses that were used to store and trade goods. Dominating the skyline of the medieval cities of Ghent and Bruges are their bell towers and their cathedrals. The former served as fortified watchtowers and today offer fantastic views of the old towns.
The cathedrals were built initially in Romanesque but later in the Gothic style, wherein the use of pointed arches and flying buttresses allowed them to rise to impressive heights.
On market squares across Flanders, civic buildings like the Town Hall and the Guild Halls of merchants were built flamboyantly with heavy embellishments. The best example of this is the Grand Place of Brussels and the Town Hall of Bruges.
At the turn of the 19th century, the use of wrought iron and glass became prominent in buildings such as Antwerp’s Central Railway station. Art Nouveau flourished especially in Brussels, and many buildings from this period have undergone successful adaptive reuse today.
The most eclectic architecture from this period is found in the Zurenborg neighbourhood of Antwerp, where a 500 metre stretch reveals houses built in an orgy of styles and materials , juxtaposed or even mixed into each other.
Photos & Text By Kunal Bhatia