Destination: Ghent
Top Ten
1 The Ghent Altarpiece
2 Gravensteen
3 Kerkhof Campo Santo
4 Kuip van Gent
5 Patershol
6 Prinsenhof
7 St Baafskathedraal
8 St Elisabethbegijnhof
9 Stedelijk Museum voor Aktuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.)
10 Vrijdagmarkt
8 St Elisabethbegijnhof

Thirteen Flemish begijnhofs have appeared on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1998. A year later the committee decided to include 24 Flemish bell towers.

After the crusades there was a surplus of women in the large cities who, because of a feeling of insecurity and loneliness, sought each other's company. As lay sisters they occupied themselves with creating and selling needlework. This is one of the theories for the origin of the begijnhofs. There are scarcely any sisters left nowadays but their residences, or begijnhofs, are listed buildings and provide an oasis of peace in the heart of the city.

The St Elisabethbegijnhof was founded in 1242 by Countess Johanna of Constantinople. Part of its original character was lost after a fire in 1674 and the realignment of the streets. The picturesque Proveniersterstraat is a reminder of this past. The white walls with their green doors recall the Sister Superior who sat in her front garden making lace and the little sister Matteken, who in the 15th century held a conversation here with an image of Christ. The charm of this place lies in the tranquil silence. A sculpture by Georges Minne in memory of the melancholic writer Georges Rodenbach looks down on the sailors who visit the Anglo-Saxon church. Families who want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life now live in the begijnhofs and convents. Children can play in the streets, chasing a ball over the cobblestones, without ever having to look out for passing traffic.

Address: The area between Rabotstraat and Begijnhoflaan
Restaurant: Snack bars in the Brugse Poort (Inexpensive)
Bus: Tram 1, 10, 11, 13; bus 16, 17, 18, 19, 38, 65
Accessible: Good
Admission: Free
Practical: Must be quiet

Info: The begijnhof, or béguinage, is a community of lay sisters living together within a town - a cross between a convent and an almshouse complex. The history of the begijnhofs goes back to the 12th century and they were especially prevalent in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands.

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