During the 11th century, Ghent was a metropolis of textile production and therefore had a powerful economic position. Merchants often had to fight the reigning princes to maintain or expand their privileges and autonomy. The flourishing textile trade made Ghent one of the largest cities in Europe. The fabrics and linens trade and the city’s staple rights for grains further increased its wealth. In the 18th century, with the introduction of mechanical linen and cotton processing machines, Ghent became the first industrial city on the European mainland.
The core of the city with its pedestrian mall and almost 10,000 landmarked buildings still testifies to Ghent’s paramount position in the Middle Ages. Strolling these streets is a lot like touring an outdoor museum of early Flemish architecture.
Ghent’s numerous and prestigious educational institutions number more than 65,000 students. Its University Clinic serves as a medical hub for the entire region and even parts of the Netherlands.