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Exploring the STAM Museum in Ghent, Belgium

By alison - April 30, 2012 (Updated: November 19, 2014)

Interior courtyard of the STAM museum

Interior courtyard of the STAM museum

STAM is an exciting new museum that brings the history of Ghent to life, within the setting of beautifully restored historic buildings.

I can hear what you’re thinking… A city museum? These can often be stuffy, boring affairs, filled with dusty artefacts and faded signage. We’ve been to a couple of city museums in Belgium that never made it to the archives of CheeseWeb. (You know we only write about the places we recommend.)

But after several locals suggested we visit the Stadsmuseum Gent or STAM we set aside our preconceived ideas about city museums and gave it a go. We were happily proved wrong.

The STAM is located on the larger Bijloke site. Now a haven for culture, not far from Ghent’s historic centre, the Bijloke was once an abbey, convent and hospital. The traditional architecture flows seamlessly into the newly designed complex and the entire area is green, vibrant and beautifully maintained.

STAM Museum Ghent, Belgium

Old meets new on the Bijloke site – STAM Museum Ghent, Belgium

On the sunny spring Sunday afternoon, when we visited, it was hard to walk by the beautiful terrace café to head inside the museum. We vowed to treat ourselves to a canal-side coffee after our research was done. (We work hard for you, readers!)

When you first enter the STAM, you are asked to don cloth booties over your shoes. As you walk into the first exhibit, you can see why. You are standing on a huge areal map of Ghent. It’s a fascinating overview (literally) of the city.

A bird's-eye view of Ghent in the map room

A bird’s-eye view of Ghent in the map room

Leaving the map room, you can toss your booties and continue into the main museum, where each room represents a period of Ghent’s fascinating history.

This city, once one of the biggest and wealthiest in northern Europe, has only, within recent history, been surpassed in size by Brussels and Amsterdam.

Just as the exterior architecture flows seamlessly from ancient to modern, so does the interior. Much of the museum is located in the former abbey. One of our favourite rooms, the medieval refectory, has been restored to reveal a stunning vaulted ceiling and wall murals.

The Medieval Refectory

The Medieval Refectory with its stunning ceiling

The you can admire the original leather wall covering in the climate controlled treasury room and visit the abbey church.

Alongside all of this restoration work, are high-tech displays chronicling Ghent’s history. You can even get interactive with exhibits like the LEGO table, with several of Ghent’s famous towers recreated in those famous plastic blocks.

LEGO in the chapel

LEGO in the chapel

STAM also features an exhibit on the ‘Just Judges,’ a panel stolen from the famous painting ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.’ The mystery surrounding the whereabouts of this work of art is as fascinating as any crime paperback.

Modern displays of ancient Ghent artefacts

Modern displays of ancient Ghent artefacts

Of course, once you are finished exploring the STAM, there is always that lovely café waiting for you. We recommend the waffles with ice-cream (for research purposes of course). If you have time, stroll the beautiful grounds of the Bijloke site, before heading into Ghent for your evening meal.

Have a great museum experience in Belgium? Tell us about it in the comment below.

(As photos are not permitted in the museum, all photos in this post are courtesy of the STAM museum and copyright Phile Deprez)

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Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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