In October, the company (-1) travelled to Ghent, Blegium, for Ontroerend Goed’s 10 year anniversary celebrations. We stumbled upon Ghent’s clock tower, known as the Belfort, and we couldn’t resist staying for a bit of history and adventure.
The tower, like much of Ghent’s centre, is preserved beautifully. 54 carillon bells sound every quarter hour with soothing arias governed from a central clockwork mechanism, considered one of the finest in the world. From the outside the tower is picturesque. The Beflort has the air of tranquility and devout craftsmanship of the kind you find in a cathedral.
there is -naturally- more to the Belfort than a citizen would see from the outside. The first floor, known literally as ‘The Secrecy Room’, was converted in 1404 to a vault containing heavy chests strapped to the floor with chains. These chests were filled with valuable municipal privileges and documents, amongst other spoils. Up the narrow and perilously steep staircase of the tower, watchmen would spy on the populous day and night, and the large bell on the fourth floor sounded to warn of approaching armies or executions. As we journeyed up the tower (with lots of very steep staircases and thin wood coving huge drops!) we discovered more and more that the Belfort was a more complex and intriguing building than just a pretty clock tower.
For some of us, the biggest discovery was the experience when we reached the top. Ghent’s Belfort is 320 feet high, and you can feel it! The bells began to chime, and the pleasant arias and appearance of the Belfort from the ground, juxtaposed with the heart-stopping vertigo of being in the Belfort, had a lasting effect on our impression of the tower and it’s history. At that moment I could picture the whole history of the place. The watchmen who spied on the town from above, suspended by wood and stone; the bolted chests below; the tranquil facade from the outside.
This visceral revelation, a perilous discovery that all is not as it seemed, because you feel it in your gut, is a goal for our company. If we can take you (as audience) into a world, laced with story and history, and through your exploration a you uncover a startling truth without exposition or justification - you just feel it - well, then we’ve made a very good piece of interactive theatre!