Ghent is one of Belgium's oldest cities and the historic capital of Flanders. This medieval city features the Three Towers of Ghent - St. Bavon's, the Belfry, and St. Nicholas' - creating a dramatic townscape, but the city's real beauty is at street level, where it's easy to imagine life in the Middle Ages amid the gabled guild houses, private mansions, and original bridges and canals. The city's historical buildings, include the Gothic Cathedral of St. Bavon (12th century), Gravenseteen castle (1180), the ruined 7th-century St. Bavon's Abbey and the remains of the Cistercian Abbey of Byloke (1228). Ghent is also a centre of horticulture and market gardening, and its great flower show, "Les Floralies," is held every five years.
Ghent grew rapidly in the 12th century, and by the 13th century it was one of the largest towns in northern Europe. It was powerful and well-organized in its wealthy trade guilds, and virtually independent until 1584. Its astonishing prosperity was based on the manufacture of cloth, but this independenceand wealth involved the city in many conflicts. The city began to decline economically in the late 16th century but revived in the 19th century with the introduction of cotton-spinning machinery. Ghent subsequently became the centre of the Belgian textiles industry, and it is now the second largest port in Belgium.
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