Turn down the Biezekapelstraat in Ghent and you are plunged into the distant period Barbara Tuchman called 'the calamitous 14th century'. The massive stone houses in this dark lane date from that violent period when wealthy families lived in houses that were built like fortresses.
The Van der Sickelen family built a series of houses here known as the Kleine Sikkel, Grote Sikkel and Achtersikkel. The oldest is the Kleine Sikkel which has crenelated battlements like a mediaeval castle. The family moved in the 15th century to the less forbidding Grote Sikkel on the opposite side of the lane. And they later added the more elegant and less fortified Achtersikkel with its elegant renaissance arcade.
The three buildings were merged in the early 20th century as a home for the Ghent Conservatory. As you wander down the lane, you might catch a student playing Chopin on the piano, or some Brahms on the cello.
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.