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Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe. Today it is a busy city with a port and a university. The municipality comprises the city of Ghent proper and the towns of Afsnee, Desteldonk, Drongen, Gentbrugge, Ledeberg, Mariakerke, Mendonk, Oostakker, Sint-Amandsberg, Sint-Denijs-Westrem, Sint-Kruis-Winkel, Wondelgem and Zwijnaarde. Ghent is Belgium's second largest municipality by number of inhabitants.
Much of the city's medieval architecture remains intact and is remarkably well preserved and restored. Its centre is the largest carfree area in Belgium. Interesting highlights are the Saint Bavo Cathedral with the Ghent Altarpiece, the belfry, the Gravensteen castle, and the splendid architecture along the old Graslei harbour. Ghent established a nice blend between comfort of living and history – it is not a city-museum. The city of Ghent houses also three béguinages and numerous churches, among which the Saint-James' church, the Saint-Nicolas' church and the Saint Michael's church are the most beautiful examples.
In the nineteenth century Ghent's most famous architect, Louis Roelandt, built the university hall Aula, the opera and the main courthouse. Highlights of modern architecture are the university buildings (the Boekentoren or Book Tower) by Henry Van de Velde. There are also a few theatres from diverse periods. The beguinages, as well as the belfry and adjacent cloth hall, were recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1998 and 1999. Every year the ten day long "Ghent Festival" is held and about 2 million visitors attend every year.
The city is host to some big cultural events such as the Gentse Feesten, I Love Techno, "10 Days Off" Musical Festival, Flanders International Film Festival Ghent - with the World Soundtrack Awards and the Gent Festival van Vlaanderen. Also, every five years, a huge botanical exhibition - Gentse Floraliën, takes place in Ghent, attracting numerous visitors to the city.
The International Festival van Vlaanderen, which had its 50th celebration in 2008, is one of the fastest growing music festivals in Europe. Yearly it opens with the OdeGand City festivities that takes place on the second Saturday of September. Some 50 concerts takes place in diverse locations throughout the medieval inner-city and some 250 internationally acclaimed artists perform.
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