Gravensteen: One of the main features of the 1913 World Fair undergoes a major overhaul and becomes a medieval fortress with a modern-day touch.
For one of Ghent’s most visited monuments, owned by the City of Ghent, the stability of the construction and the safety of the visiting public are of paramount importance. In order to guarantee both aspects permanently and still keep the Gravensteen open to visitors, a restoration campaign was launched in 1985. This complex restoration process is led by a multidisciplinary team of engineers, architects, archaeologists and historic preservation and cultural heritage professionals. For each discipline, depending on specific needs and obstacles, temporary experts are brought in. Seven major restoration phases, consisting of several subphases, are anticipated.
Each phase is preceded by archaeological surveys. The most urgent restoration work was given precedence.
Phase 1 (1985–1987): the donjon was clearly starting to break off. The eastern outbuilding, built on a platform, was showing signs of subsidence, so reinforced foundation beams were installed 8 to 9 metres deep. Additionally, the walls were restored and injected in order to prevent disintegration and water infiltration. The building was made accessible again with a stairway to its ground floor. Thanks to a glass viewing pit, the original entrance to the Gravensteen was revealed once more.
Phase 2 and part 1 of phase 3 (1988–1991): Several rooms had leaking roofs and fungus-infested beams. The roofs were repaired (except the roof of the donjon). All outer walls and battlements were restored up to 1 metre from the roof. A new modern staircase now gives access to the donjon. New bathroom facilities were installed, as well as technical and staff rooms.
Intermediary phase (1990–1992): Floors were restored and the large public spaces were equipped with floor heating and air heating. The electrical facilities were completely overhauled and emergency lighting and fire detection systems were installed.
Part 2 of phase 3 (1992–1994): The renovation of the outer walls was completed. The donjon was outfitted with a new roof and a new walking surface. Vaults and battlements were injected. Stairs were refurbished to increase user comfort. A pigeon deterrent system was installed throughout the fortress.
Intermediary phase (1996–1997): The outdoor stairwell and the east wing of the Count’s House were urgently restored, as was the coping of the donjon’s west-facing outer wall.
Maintenance work was needed on the rampart in 1999 to guarantee visitor access in the long term. Liquid cement was injected to stabilize the outer wall’s masonry and the rampart adjacent to the gatehouse.
In 2005 and early 2006, the new glass reception building with its new reception desk was constructed to increase the comfort of both visitors and staff. A new staircase was built for visitors to access the underground stables.
In 2009, the retaining wall with its wrought-iron fence on the side of the Geldmunt was torn down and replaced by a low sitting wall, into the backside of which the bulky cable boxes for public transportation (De Lijn) and other utility companies were incorporated. The monument lighting was built into this wall as well.
Later, after the rampart is fully restored, the retaining wall on the side of the Sint-Veerleplein (Saint Pharaildis Square) will undergo the same process, and the second part of the retaining wall along the Geldmunt, at the current construction zone, will be completed.
Phase 4 (since 2000): On the one hand, restoration work on the rampart consisted of stability improvements:the masonry of the outer wall was injected with liquid cement and its foundations were solidified by casting grout pillars underneath the wall (through cement injection), anchored in the load-bearing ground layers.
On the other hand the shutters were replaced; the walking surface of the rampart was repaired; the brickwork in (mostly) Tournai limestone was cleaned, restored and re-pointed; and the flanking towers’ wooden entresols and stairs were repaired.
This restoration work started just to the right of the gatehouse, adjacent to the stables, because stability was most compromised there. Next, the process of reinforcing the entire rampart anticlockwise was started; the final section is awaiting completion, pending subsidies of the Flemish government.
Meanwhile, the donjon has been equipped with a new wooden walking surface and a new glass railing. Currently, restoration work is underway on the roof of the gatehouse.
Phase 6 becomes phase 5. The planned restoration of the northern outbuilding was put off for the 1913 World Fair; the non-medieval constructions were removed and a preliminary investigation was carried out, but that was all. A hundred years have passed since, and it is high time for action. Due to the precarious situation of this dilapidated part of the fortress, the major restoration phases will be switched. The northern outbuilding was originally slated to be restored in phase 6, but its condition is now so fragile that it has been moved up to phase 5.
New archaeological research will accompany this restoration process.