Gravensteen Castle, locally simply known as Gravensteen, lies in the city of Ghent, in the East Flanders province in the Flemish region in Belgium.
The first fortification at this site, a sand dune with swampy borders inbetween the anabranches of the River Leie, was built in the mid-9th century by Baldwin I, the first Count of Flanders, to fight off Viking raids. This fortification grew out to be the seat of the Counts of Flanders, hence its name ‘Gravensteen’, which literally translates back to ‘Stone of the Counts’. Around 879 AD it was apparently taken by the Vikings as they used it as a base for their raids in the area.
Count Arnulf I had the fortification completely rebuilt during the 10th century. It then consisted of a hall atop a small hill surrounded by other buildings, everything was built out of wood. In the 11th century, Count Robert I had the castle drastically rebuilt. He had the old wooden hall replaced by a rectangular stone keep, 3 stories high, surrounded by new wooden auxiliary buildings and a defensive enclosure with a wall tower. Later the defensive wall and the wall tower were rebuilt in stone and a stone gate tower was added. The entire site was moated.
In 1180, Count Philip I had the castle again completely rebuilt. It is his castle that we see today. He built the almost 30 meters high keep, the barbican in front of the gate tower and the defensive wall with its 24 protruding turrets.
Count Louis II moved out of Gravensteen Castle in the first part of the 14th century because he desired a more comfortable residence. The castle stayed the administrative center of the county. In 1353 the Mint of Ghent was installed in the castle. In 1407 also the Council of Flanders moved in and used part of the castle as a prison.
In later centuries parts of the moat silted up and houses were built against the outer castle walls, hiding the castle from view until around 1900. The Council had its seat in the castle until 1778, when it was sold to civilians. During the 19th century the castle was used as a cotton mill and habitation for the laborers and their families. At the end of the century the cotton mill and the laborers moved out, leaving Gravensteen Castle almost as a ruin.
In 1894 a thorough restoration followed turning the castle back into the appearance the architects thought it had during the time of Count Philip I. It then became a tourist spot. In 1949 the castle was shortly occupied by protesting local students. In recent decades it was again restored twice.
At present Gravensteen Castle can be visited for a fee. A great castle in a great city. Recommended! Geeraard de Duivelsteen Castle is nearby.