Hidden Belgium: St Bavo Abbey ruins

Hidden Belgium: St Bavo Abbey ruins

The ruined Sint-Bavo Abbey is a strange, forgotten building near the River Leie in Ghent. The city restricts the opening hours to protect the fragile mediaeval site.

Founded in the seventh century, the abbey takes its name from an obscure local monk who lived as a hermit in a hollow tree near Ghent.

It grew into one of the most important abbeys in northern Europe, but was largely destroyed in 1540 when Charles V built a fortress on the site for his Spanish troops.

A few of the abbey buildings were spared, including the cloisters, a chapel and the impressive dining hall. The baffling, overgrown ruins became a lapidary museum in 1887 filled with unidentified fragments of old buildings.

The abbey church has disappeared. Not a single stone has survived from the Romanesque building. But the shape of the church has been marked out with hornbeam hedges that are carefully clipped by the city gardeners.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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