The Port of Ghent is located where the Lys and Scheldt Rivers meet in northwestern Belgium about 58 kilometers from the North Sea via the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal. It is about 43 kilometers west-northwest of Antwerp and almost 50 kilometers northwest of Brussels. The Port of Ghent is the third busiest port in Belgium. In 2007, over 235 people lived in the Port of Ghent.
In addition to housing one of Belgium's major ports, the Port of Ghent is a center for gardening and horticulture and, every five years, the site for the huge Gentse Floralien flower show. Other important economic sectors include banking, oil refining, and manufacturing of chemical, paper, and light machinery products. Tourism is a growing and important part of the local economy as well.
Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in the region of the Port of Ghent as long ago as the Stone Age and the Iron Age. Certainly, people lived in the area during the Roman period. At the beginning of the first millennium AD, the peoples of the Port of Ghent spoke Celtic and Latin tongues. The German Franks invaded formerly Roman lands at the end of the 4th Century, bringing with them a new language, Dutch.
In the middle of the 7th Century, Saint Amand established two abbeys that, together with a trading village, became the center of the commercial center that would be called the Port of Ghent. In the middle 9th Century, Vikings plundered the Port of Ghent two times. The town soon recovered, and it thrived from the 1200s to the present. Before the 13th Century, the Port of Ghent was the second biggest city in Europe, second only to Paris, and as many as 65 thousand people lived within its walls.
The Port of Ghent was located in a low-lying area that tends to flood, creating rich grasslands that supported sheep herding and wool gathering. In the Middle Ages, the Port of Ghent became an important textile and cloth-making center. The wool industry grew tremendously, and the Port of Ghent became the first real industrial zone in Europe during the Middle Ages.
In 1251, the Port of Ghent attempted to create a water access to the North Sea by building the Lieve Canal from Ghent to Damme in the northwest. Unfortunately, the canal became clogged with sand and was not navigable by the end of the 15th Century.
Because wool had to be imported from England to keep the industry busy, the two countries developed a strong and productive relationship. England's Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, was born in the Port of Ghent. During the Hundred Years' War from the mid-1300s to the mid-1400s, the city suffered significant declines in its English trade.
Under the Dukes of Burgundy, Flanders and nearby provinces were united, and the Port of Ghent began to recover from long era of low trade. However, the Dukes' high taxes resulted in a local rebellion and the defeat of the Port of Ghent by Philip the Good. At the same time, power and commerce began to shift from the Port of Ghent to Antwerp and Brussels in the Low Countries.
Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, was born in the Port of Ghent in 1500. Despite his ties to the town, Charles punished local nobles for the 1539 Revolt of Ghent by forcing them to parade before the emperor with bare feet and nooses around their necks. The early Saint Bavo Abbey was all but destroyed and replace by a Spanish fortress.
In 1547, a second try at creating access to the North Sea was made when the Sasse Canal (Sassevaart) was constructed. The Sassevaart became a busy route for trade; however, the 16th Century Wars of Religion (Protestant Reformation) brought an end to navigation on the canal and the western River Scheldt. While the Port of Ghent was a Calvinist republic for a time, Spanish troops soon restored Catholicism. The wars effectively ended the Port of Ghent's position as an international center.
During the 17th Century, the Ghent-Bruges-Ostend canal was dug with the hopes of restoring seaborne trade. Unfortunately, the Port of Ghent's trade privileges had been cancelled, so the canal remained largely unused.
By the 18th Century, the Port of Ghent's textile industry once again flourished. The first mechanical weaving machine in continental Europe was introduced by Lieven Bauwens, who smuggled plans for the machine from England in 1800. In 1812, the Port of Ghent was the site for the formal Treaty of Ghent between Britain and the United States that ended the War of 1812.
After Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Port of Ghent was part of the short-lived United Kingdom of the Netherlands. During this time, the city earned a university and its present connection to the North Sea when the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal was dug from the Port of Ghent to the mouth of the River Scheldt.
Authorized by William I, King of The Netherlands, in 1822, work started on the canal in 1827. Over the following century, the canal was extended several times. The Belgian Revolution of the early 19th Century cut off sea access for the Port of Ghent for over a decade, devastating the local economy and stimulating the birth of the first trade union in Belgium.
During the 20th Century, the Port of Ghent grew despite the interruptions brought by World Wars I and II. However, by mid-century, modern post-war ocean-going vessels had grown too large to use the lock and canal leading to the Port of Ghent. In 1960, Belgium and The Netherlands agreed to build new sealock and to adapt the canal to accommodate vessels of up to 80 thousand DWT.
In the 1960s, the Sifferdock was extended, and the Petroleumdock was constructed. The new sealock was opened in 1968. The Rodenhuizedok was dug during the 1970s. Beginning in 1996, construction began on the new Kluizendok which began operations in 2005. The opening of the Kluizendok began a new era for the Port of Ghent by providing an additional 1.2 thousand meters of quay wall and waterfront area.