A brief history

From Europe’s largest Medieval hospital to concert hall, museum & MICE-venue
13de eeuw Bijloke

In the beginning, it was a hospital

The history of De Bijloke began in the early 13th century, when a small-scale hospital in the centre of Ghent wasn’t large enough to take care of the sick and also had to make way when the Dominicans demanded space for a new monastery. Around 1228, construction began on a new hospital on the ‘Bijlokemeersen’, a private or ‘enclosed’ area (the meaning of the word ‘beloken’). It was one of the largest institutions of its kind in Western Europe and marked the beginning of healthcare at De Bijloke in the medieval period.

Abdij Bijloke

The abbey

The sisters of a Cistercian abbey nearby were entrusted with looking after the sick. As a result, it was decided to establish a new Cistercian abbey at De Bijloke. Over time, it expanded with the addition of various rooms and buildings.

Houten dak Bijloke Abdij
Ziekenzaal Oude Bijloke

The wooden roof

The showpiece of this colossal medieval infirmary is undoubtedly the overwhelming oak canopy, a sturdy and robust example of medieval craftsmanship. It was built with wood from an entire oak forest felled in southern Belgium.

Het Kraakhuis


In 1511, a second, smaller infirmary was specially (re)built for the seriously ill. Today, this building is called the “Craeckhuys”, a nickname which has survived from the 17th century. Historians disagree about the origins of the term “Craeckhuys”. “Craecken” means being seriously ill or dying and may refer to a room where people were nursed before death. Others believe it may be from the German ‘Krankenhaus’, suggesting it was a separate location for the richer citizens of Ghent.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution at the end of the 18th century turned De Bijloke into a civilian hospital. The law on the abolition of the monasteries ensured that after more than 500 years, the administration of the hospital was no longer in the hands of the Cistercians. The sisters continued to work there.

Het Kraakhuis

Founding of Ghent University

With the founding of Ghent University in 1817, the training of doctors and other medical staff was entrusted to De Bijloke Hospital. At the end of the 19th century, a new anatomical institute with an Anatomical Theatre, a surgery room, laboratories, classrooms, a museum of anatomy and a cutting room was built next to the infirmary. The museum featured dried-out skulls, human bones or muscles and organs preserved in formaldehyde. Later it became a study room and even a linen room. Students were taught here until 1965.

A new civil hospice

In the course of the 19th century, the hospital became way too small. The industrial city of Ghent experienced unprecedented population growth, which led to the outbreak of three epidemics. Prominent physicians made a case for the construction of a new hospital. Between 1863 and 1880, the Bijloke complex was significantly expanded. The old medieval chapel became a morgue with an accompanying section room.

Van ziekenhuis naar event locatie

From medieval hospital & abbey to event venue, concert hall and city museum

In the second half of the 20th century, the health and care sector were fully professionalized, with the result that the old buildings were no longer fit for purpose. The university built its own hospital and housed its medical training department there. The remaining medical and care functions were moved, as a result of which De Bijloke lacked any functional or intellectual purpose. Eventually, after standing empty for years, the empty buildings were converted in the late 1990s into a city museum, concert hall and event centre. Nowadays, the historical buildings on the site provide congress attendees with an unrivalled experience.