If you are in Ghent on a Sunday morning head straight for the Kouter Square and walk around the Sunday Flower market that has been held in the same location since the 18th century. Most of Belgium shuts down each Sunday.
There is no Sunday shopping as nearly all the shops are closed. Kouter Square though is bustling with activity. From 8am until the late afternoon, the Square is overflowing with flower and plant sellers even in the winter.
Exotic delicate plants like orchids are sold in large tents where the temperature is kept warm by giant heaters. The flowers at this particular market mostly come from Flanders with a number of imports from Holland. Indoor and outdoor plants are sold. You can buy a range of plants from black current bushes, bulbs, fruit trees, topiary bushes to cacti. There are a number of vendors selling simple cut flowers and ready-made bouquets.
The Hotel Faligan in Kouter Square, was built in 1775 in the French Roccoco architectural style. The Koninklijke Opera house home of the Royal Opera was built between 1837 and 1840.
This square has played a major role over the centuries in the history of Ghent. It has been the site of meetings, markets, festivals, tournaments, troop inspections, a shooting range and shooting contests. Music has been very important in Kouter Square. It was a place where people danced.
The 'Bal Populaire', a popular dance event was first held in the square in 1843. Kouter Square is illuminated with lanterns and lights. It is the climax of each Ghent Community Festival. It developed into one of the most regular items of the annual programme. Today it is known as the 'Ball 1900'. The popular 'Kouter ball' is the only attraction at the Gent Festivities which survived the 150-years old history, from 1843 till today.
In 1803 the Kouter square was known as the 'Place d'Armes'. It was the scene of a large dance party, organised in honour of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte . The festivities took place in a large tent, decorated with slogans and chandeliers. All around the square there were illuminated arcades and garlands. Napoleon and his wife Marie-Louise, accompanied by generals and ministers, arrived 16th July 1803 at 10.30pm and stayed for about an hour.
Various local brass bands perform free concerts from the attractive bandstand. At one end of the square you can purchase coffee and pastries from a market stand. Strolling around the square, soaking in the atmosphere, admiring the flowers, smelling the different fragences and listening to music is a wonderful to spend a Sunday morning.
The oysters and champagne stall
In the corner of the Kouter Square Sunday flower market there is a classy small blue kiosk. It is surrounded by high white tables where people gather to casually sip champagne and slurp down fresh oysters. It is surprisingly affordable. Just amble up to the window and order a few drinks and plate of nibbles, If you do not like champagne they also sell sweeter German wine.