Gravensteen Castle with its torture museum and medieval toilets

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Gravensteen (Dutch for “Castle of the Count”) is a massive stone castle smack dab in the middle of a historic square in downtown Ghent. Rounding a bustling corner and seeing a full medieval castle with a moat and turrets towering over quaint Belgian cafes is one of the more random and stunning sights I’ve experienced in my European travels.

Gravensteen Castle

Gravensteen in its current form was built in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace, and over the centuries was used as the seat of the Counts of Flanders, a courthouse, a prison, and a factory. It eventually fell into disrepair, its walls crumbling and its stone used to build other structures, but the city of Ghent saved it from demolition by buying the property and renovating it beginning in 1865.

Aside from a tour of the extensive grounds, halls, and towers, your admission (10 Euro) grants you access to multiple exhibits featuring Medieval armor and weapons. The most popular exhibit is the torture museum, which showcases the methods used to extract information from prisoners detained in the castle’s subterranean dungeons while awaiting trial. Pretty gruesome stuff, for sure.