The History of Ghent City: Archaeology
Archaeological research has shown that the initial signs of human settlement in the Ghent city can be traced from as early as the prehistoric times. However, it was only in the Roman period that a community of significance began to develop near the confluence of the two rivers, Leie and Scheldt . The Abbey of Saint Peter that later came to be known as the Abbey of Saint Bavo was crowned and a ‘Portis’ created in the middle ages, for commercial activity. Some scholars have claimed that the Flemish name Gent, was derived from the Celtic ‘Ganda’ that meant confluence. In the 11th and 12th centuries . Ghent grew to become an essential trade center, supported by the local cloth production. The clothes were made from imported English wool. It was during this time that the city’s existing stone (castle of Counts) was built. In 1500 Charles V, who was destined to become one of the most prominent rulers was born in Ghent. Although Charles was a native of the Ghent city, he was not very popular. In 1940 he administered severe punishments to the city when the citizens resisted paying more taxes to finance war . It is worth noting that the history of Ghent city took a wrong direction under the leadership of Philip II, Charles V’s son who came from Spain. In the late 15th century, the cloth trade was declining as Ghent seemed prosperous by shifting to shipping trade along the Scheldt and Leie rivers . In the latter stages of the 15th century, there was a commercial decline brought about by the closing of river Scheldt. This decline was not reversed until cloth working was revived during the industrialization period of the 19th century.
Honestly, it was not until the end of 18th century that the city was crowned as a part of the French Empire and peace and prosperity were restored to Ghent. Ranging from 1800 there was a construction of new factories which entailed cotton mills and sugar refineries . The idea of establishing a cotton mill was borrowed from England by Lieven Bauwens. This jumpstarted the hope that Ghent would soon grow to become the Manchester of the continent.
Meanwhile, the city continued to grow throughout the 19th century as an industrial center. The industrialization of the city resulted in an influx of inhabitants, making the number of residents to triple. However, the working-class in this city were exposed to miserable working conditions, thus resulting in the formation of first Belgian trade union . Today, Ghent has a total population of about 250 thousand inhabitants. To gain more understanding about Ghent city this research has purposed to show how the history of Ghent has contributed to its current industrialization, globalization, urbanization and local and international identity which benefit its residents and the whole community living around the city.
To start with, the industrial revolution in Belgium was based on the textile industry. This can be traced from 1798 when the Ghent tanner, Lieven Bauwens successfully smuggled out the hidden ideas behind Britain’s textile industry that was booming- the spinning Jennies . Although the British discovered Bauwen’s tricks and wanted to arrest him, he successfully escaped and managed to bring the idea to Ghent. After returning, he assembled the spinning jenny and started using it. Later on, there was widespread use of the spinning jenny. Also, Ghent was victorious in the textile industry because it already had a linen industry.
From the above discussion, it can be derived that the industries that have flourished in the city are as a result of Ghent’s industrial past. Furthermore, the Museum of Industry, Labor, and textile (MIAT), an old cotton mill provides a unique representation of the profound changes in technology that the Ghent society has experienced over the last 250 years . Currently, with the advancement of technology. Many other industries and companies have continued to thrive in this city. Some companies that are now present in this city encompass Kenpolis which is a consumer services company, Larian Studios, which is a technology company and Volvo Car Gent which is also a consumer goods company among other companies. These companies have continued to help the community living around them by providing employment, involving in corporate social responsibilities and availing desirable goods.
Indeed the urbanization in Ghent City can be traced from as early as the 15th century. Urbanization can be defined as the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas. While the 1852 Haussmann plan can be viewed as a role model in the establishment of Ghent, traces of such a vision can be observed much earlier. In the period after the construction of the first railway station, the surrounding of the rail station was reinforced with new straight squares and boulevards providing air and light while at the same time connecting the inner commercial districts of the city . Also in the vicinity of citadel, new and large townhouses were built. The layout approaches which were applied to the station area were then utilized for rehabilitation of some densely populated working-class neighborhoods in the city.
In addition to the construction of roads and squares, several public buildings were also erected. Near the Coupure canal, a prison and a casino were constructed. The old Bijloke Hospital was also expanded. Meanwhile, new districts rapidly established outside the former ramparts. These developments acted as the roots for urbanization in Ghent city. Due to the availability of hospitals, housing, roads, and industries to work for, most inhabitants moved to the urban areas. Currently, the City is highly populated with about 250000 residents who either work in the industries or enjoy the social amenities available.
After the smuggling of spinning Jennies from Britain by Bauwens, there was a widespread of its use by many Ghent residents. This was the beginning of industrialization. Since then, Ghent City has gained a unique international and regional identity as an industrial city. The city has grown to adopt scientific research as a way of improving its industrial presence. For instance, Ghent can now be viewed as the birthplace of biotechnology . Some internationally recognized companies like Ghent Bio-Energy Valley, have grown and obtained market dominance in Ghent, providing high-quality bioenergy products to the community members and the international community.
Finally, Globalization and urbanization can be discussed hand-in-hand. Globalization is the process by which organizations and enterprises develop international prominence, conducting their activities at international levels. Ghent started as a small city, with textile trading as its primary economic activity. By this time, it had not gained global prominence. However, with industrialization, many other institutions started to be established. One of these institutions is the Ghent University, which was founded in 1817 by King William I. as a Flemish institution, most of its degrees are taught in Dutch . This university has since grown into an international level, with some degrees now being taught in English. Ghent has also been globally recognized for its Ghent Festival, which was first held in 1843. The intensity of the festival has continued to change throughout the decades. Currently, the festival is known worldwide and receives 1 to 1.5 million visitors yearly.
The developments shown by Ghent city in Belgium are closely linked to its history. The City gained industrialization after Bauwens, smuggled Spinning Jellies from Britain. Since then, many industries have been established. There has been the globalization of several institutions including the Ghent University and other festivals like the Ghent Festival. Also, the City has gained both regional and global recognition due to the industries it hosts. Most of its residents have moved to the city areas due to good housing, transport, jobs and other social amenities.
Stam. 2018. The Story of Ghent: Ghent, a City of All Times. Accessed April 7, 2018. http://stamgent.be/en/digi-expos/het-verhaal-van-gent.