Through this walk, you will learn more about the brothers’ work and about life in the 15th century. The walk is also suitable for families with (young) children. Just scroll down and download the package of activities and games, especially designed for the youngest ones. Tip: print the package in advance. This way, you will be optimally prepared!
2,6 km - 3500 steps
De Kouter square has always been an open space. Its name comes from the Latin word ‘cultura’ which means ‘cultivated farmland’. Throughout history, this square has always been a place of importance. The citizenry of the Ghent bourgeoisie liked promenading here in the 17th century. The bandstand and the Opera were not the first recreational facilities built here. This used to be the site of a bowling green and of blood sports involving geese as well as the training grounds of the guild of Saint Sebastian, a militia of archers.
When Toontje Verstuyft wanted to sell some flowers near De Kouter in 1772, he probably did not think that he would be setting a trend. Every year, florists still present an award that bears his name.
The square is now adorned with 13 bronze leaves created by American artist Jessica Diamond. They all refer to the leaves depicted in the Ghent Altarpiece. Take a look and see if you recognise them. Each leaf also bears an inscription with the Middle Dutch name.
Now walk to Vogelmarkt square. Then continue to the corner with Koestraat.
Corner of Vogelmarkt and Koestraat
Look up to the façade of the white house on the corner of Koestraat and Vogelmarkt. You will see reliefs with portraits of the Van Eyck brothers. Even though this is no longer the original 15th-century house, it is in all probability the place where their studio was located. Did they paint the Ghent Altarpiece here, within a stone's throw of the former St John’s church (now St Bavo’s Cathedral)? It is neither confirmed nor refuted by the sources, but it seems very likely.
One of the exterior panels (left-centre) of the Ghent Altarpiece depicts a view of the city through a window. This could be the view Hubert and Jan had when they looked through their window on the second floor: a street with a mansion on the corner, then a chapel and at the end a row of wooden houses and a city gate. Most of these elements have long since disappeared, but the chapel of the wool weavers can still be ‘visited’. Just take a look inside the shop located at Kortedagsteeg 12. The shape of the city gate in the painting, however, does not correspond to that of Walpoort gate which actually stood here. So it is not an accurate reproduction of what they saw, but perhaps it was a source of inspiration.
Walk to the end of Gouvernementstraat (where the cathedral is) and turn right into Limburgstraat.
Maaseikplein square: statue of the Van Eyck brothers
This statue of the Van Eyck brothers was designed by the then young Ghent sculptor Geo Verbanck and architect Valentin Vaerwyck on the occasion of the 1913 World's Fair. It took place near the Gent-Sint-Pieters train station, on the site where the Millionaires’ Quarter is now located.
When the sculpture was unveiled by King Albert I in August 1913, it was not yet finished. A plaster version of the sculpture group on the left was painted bronze and installed so as to make it look complete.
The countries that took part in the World's Fair and the cities that had a link with Jan Van Eyck were lobbied to fund the statue. All sponsors were thanked with a shield on the rear of the sculpture group. Besides the coat of arms of Ghent, Maaseik and Flanders, you can also find those of the Netherlands, France, Germany, the United States and Russia. When standing in front of the sculpture group and looking between the heads of Jan and Hubert, you can see the Vijd chapel, the original location of the Ghent Altarpiece.
Now turn left towards the entrance of the cathedral.
In 1432, when the Ghent Altarpiece was unveiled, St Bavo’s Cathedral was still dedicated to St John the Baptist. It was not until 1540, after Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had St Bavo’s Abbey demolished for the construction of a Spanish Castle, that the church got a new patron saint: Saint Bavo. When the diocese of Ghent was created in 1559, the church of St Bavo became St Bavo’s Cathedral.
To this day, the cathedral continues to be the home base of the Ghent Altarpiece. It was originally displayed in the Vijd chapel, the first chapel on the right behind the choir. In 1934, twee panels were stolen: the Just Judges panel and the Saint John the Baptist grisaille painting. The Saint John the Baptist painting was retrieved, but the Just Judges panel is still missing. Every year, new urban legends appear that allegedly reveal where the panel is hidden. For better conservation, the triptych was moved to the baptismal chapel at the front left of the cathedral. In 2021, the Ghent Altarpiece was relocated once again to the Holy Sacrament chapel behind the choir, the centrepiece of the new visitor centre.
Now turn left into Lange Kruisstraat and take the alley next to restaurant ‘De Abt’ until you see a black-and-white mural of several metres high on your right-hand side.
The small square features a work of art by Argentine street artiest Francisco Bosoletti. You may recognise Adam and Eve from the Ghent Altarpiece, with one difference: they are back to back. With this work, Bosoletti asks the question: ‘Would human history have begun if these two Biblical figures had not met?’
He gave this work the name ‘Desencuentro’ which means ‘mismatch’. Another tip from the artist: take a picture of the mural and convert it into a negative image. This will allow you to experience the mural in a completely different manner.
Most walks and guided tours take you along the main streets and crowd-pullers. Now we are going to take you along some of the smaller streets. Take the time to look up at the façades and see the differences in styles.
Looking at the street art, turn a quarter to the left and dive into the narrow passage to Mageleinstraat, then cross Mageleinstraat diagonally to the right and take Bennesteeg, cross the tram tracks and continue along Bennesteeg until the end in Veldstraat, cross Veldstraat diagonally to the right, walk into Nodenaysteeg, take the first street on the right (Schuurkenstraat), and at the end, turn left into Van Stopenberghestraat until the very end.
J. Van Stopenberghestraat
When the film 'The Monuments Men' hit cinemas in 2014, graffiti artist Bart Smeets sprayed a gigantic mural of the Ghent Altarpiece on this side wall. Film producer 20th Century Fox pulled off an advertising stunt to promote the film, starring none other than Matt Damon and George Clooney. After all, the painting plays an important role in the film.
The mural covers an area of 100m² and artist Bart Smeets needed no less than 80 hours to complete the work. Ten litres of primer were used and 77 spray cans were emptied. Scan the QR code to see the work in progress and some excerpts from the film 'The Monuments Men'.
Walk under the St Michael's Bridge and turn immediately right into Pakhuisstraat. Cross Korenmarkt square to brasserie 'Borluut'.
Korenmarkt (Borluut house)
When you look at the closed panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, you cannot help but notice that two protagonists steal the show: Joos Vijd on the left and Isabella Borluut on the right. Both are praying, depicted in full and true to life. The two commissioners of this famous altarpiece were no longer young at the time. The childless couple wanted to save their souls with this religious work. At the same time, a daily mass had to be celebrated in the Vijdkapel chapel of St Bavo's Cathedral.
The name 'Borluut' is not unknown in Ghent. It was a very rich patrician family who owned the house you are looking at now. Today it is known as the ‘Borluut house’. It was built in the second half of the 12th century in the blue-grey Tournai stone that was typical for buildings from that time. Very few houses from that period have been as well preserved as this one. Don't miss the coat of arms of the Borluut family: 3 running deer on a blue background.
Continue along the Korenmarkt square and turn left into Hooiaard until you reach the Grasbrug bridge.
Today, the E17 and E40 motorways are among the most important trade routes in Europe and it is no coincidence that they cross near Ghent. You’re in the medieval version of the E40 motorway, the trade route between Bruges and Cologne. The trade route's trajectory through Ghent’s centre is symbolised by copper coins in the road surface. Every coin bears an image linked to a piece of Ghent’s history. Scan the coins’ QR code for more information. You’re at the start of the coin route, which you may want to walk during your next visit to Ghent.
Cross the bridge and go down Jan Breydelstraat on your right until you reach the end.
Burgstraat (Gekroonde Hoofden)
The facade of ribs restaurant ‘De gekroonde hoofden’ (or ‘crowned heads’) reads like a history book. The crowned heads are the counts of Flanders from the 13th to the 16th century. The story starts at the top left with Baldwin I, Latin Emperor (BC), and ends at the bottom right with Philip II of Spain (PF), son of Charles V (KR). The man we’re interested in is right above Charles V: Philip the Good (PB). He is the one who employed Jan Van Eyck as court painter. Philip’s Ghent palace was located a few hundred metres further down the street, on the right side of the façade: Hof ter Walle. Emperor Charles V was born there in 1500. From that moment on, it has been called ‘Prinsenhof’.
Did you know that the bottom row and the row above that one are the Habsburg and the Burgundian counts of Flanders respectively?
Go to the right in the direction of the Castle of the Counts. On Veerleplein square, turn immediately right to the corner, to the gate with the Neptune statue at the top.
Sint-Veerleplein (Old Fish Market)
Ten tijde van Jan Van Eyck was hier de Sint-Veerlekerk, vandaar de naam van het plein. Op het plein was een groentemarkt en op de huidige Groentemarkt was er toen een vismarkt. Het is pas in de 18e eeuw dat hier een nieuwe hal, ‘de oude vismijn’ werd gebouwd. Ga binnen en neem een kijkje in het Dienst Toerisme Infokantoor. Je vindt er tonnen info voor je volgende ontdekkingstocht in Gent.
Met het Gravensteen links van je, steek je het Sint-Veerleplein over, kruis de tramsporen en ga de Kraanlei in. Geef je ogen de kost want je vindt hier heel wat fraaie gevels. Wist je dat de vaten Bourgondische wijn voor Filips de Goede hier met een kraan gelost werden?
Wandel tot aan Zuivelbrugstraat, steek de Zuivelbrug over en duik de Meersenierssstraat in, op het einde onmiddellijk links tot in de hoek van de Vrijdagmarkt met de Waaistraat.
Those of you who have watched the Flemish TV show ‘Iedereen beroemd’ in the last year, have probably seen it: every panel of the Ghent Altarpiece was reimagined by 12 artists. The result on display here is a collaboration between florist Paulien Verhaest (her shop Blommm can be found a little further down the street) and street artist Cee Pil.
The artwork was made in 2 steps: Cee Pil made the painting in his typical style by combining 2 figures, after which Paulien made John the Baptist’s cape from various flowers and plants that can be found in Van Eyck’s painting. The artwork keeps evolving. The flowers wilt, and different weather phenomena have their effect, slowly but surely making Cee Pil's work more visible. If you missed the programme, you can watch a short fragment about the creation of this work of art by scanning the following QR code.
Retrace your steps and walk onto the Vrijdagmarkt square.
Vrijdagmarkt (Jacob Van Artevelde)
In the middle of Vrijdagmarkt square you can see a statue of one of Ghent's heroes: Jacob van Artevelde. He was a wool merchant who took control over Ghent during the Hundred Year’s War between France and England, united the Flemish cloth-making cities of Ghent, Bruges and Ypres, forged alliances with England and strengthened the ties between Flanders and Hainaut. You can read the entire history in the pedestal’s reliefs.
It’s thanks to his efforts that Ghent was able to buy English wool and make and sell cloth. A city in deep crisis became an economically prosperous city once again. But old feuds between weavers and fullers also resurfaced. Caught in the crossfire of the feuds, Jacob was murdered by a weaver in front of his home in Kalandeberg.
Did you know that Jacob Van Artevelde was very close to the English king Edward III? The English queen Philippa gave birth a son named ‘John of Gaunt’ in St Bavo’s Abbey. Jacob van Artevelde named his son Philips after his godmother, queen Philippa. Jacob recognised the English king as king of France here on Vrijdagmarkt square, which triggered a new chapter in the Hundred Years' War, as the French wouldn’t accept it: they already had a king!
Stand face to face with Jacob van Artevelde, now walk to the corner of Vrijdagmarkt square diagonally to your right, into Wijzemanstraat, until you reach the end.
We are once again looking at one of the murals made to celebrate Van Eyck. Take a good look: what do you see? What do you recognise? Try to reconstruct the story that Argentine artist Hyuro (Tamara Djurovic) is trying to tell.
She is known for her dreamy, surrealistic work, where women often play a central role. By means of the cloth, Hyuro creates a link with the rich fabrics and garments shown in the Ghent Altarpiece. The floral pattern is a reference to the botanical splendour of the artwork. Hyuro often includes a political message in her creations. This work is no exception: the cloth covers people that politicians would rather hide: the refugees. This also explains why the work is called ‘Covering the Uncovered’.
When you look at the mural, turn left. Cross Kammerstraat and turn into one of the enchanting little streets of Ghent: Serpentstraat. Turn right at the end, into Onderstraat. On your left, you’ll find a narrow street called Werregarenstraat. Most Ghentians don’t know that this is the street’s real name, as it is commonly known as ‘Graffiti Alley’.
You will end this walk in the footsteps of one of the best medieval painters ever, among works of art by contemporary artists.
Graffiti is often looked at as a nuisance or vandalism. But in Werregarenstraat, also known as Graffiti Alley, everyone is free to do their thing on the walls. You’ll find works by beginners, amateur artists and seasoned street artists. The street’s appearance changes almost every week, because spray painting is allowed here. Some renowned street artists such as Klaas Van der Linden often visit the alley to paint a new work. Klaas often works in black and white and paints skeletons. If you look for his work, you’ll find it.