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Ghent’s best kept secret: The command bunker in the Citadel Park

In our continuing series of articles about lesser-known, but nonetheless interesting buildings and sites in our region, this week we visit the command bunker that is hidden in Ghent’s Citadel Park. As ever our photographer Alexander Dumarey has provided us with some excellent photographs for our article.  

The command bunker in the Citadel Park in Ghent is probably the East Flemish city’s best kept secret. Only a couple of chimney pots and ventilation shafts would lead those not in the know to suspect that there is a bunker hidden in the ground beneath them. The entrance to the bunker is via an fairly inconspicuous chalet that belongs to the City Parks Department, the likes of which can be seen in dozens of other parks all over the country.

As the name of the park suggests a citadel was once situated there. It was demolished in the early 19th century by the authorities in what was then the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch built a fort on the site.

When the southern provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands broke away to form what is now Belgium in 1830 the fort became superfluous to requirements. Although it was used for a time as an army barracks.

By 1913 all that remained of the fort was the gate building and a few casemates. It was decided that what remained of the fort should be demolished.

In 1938, With the prospect of war in Europe looming again all Belgium’s then 9 provincial capitals were told by the government to construct underground command posts. The East Flemish capital Ghent opted to use the former citadel site for its bunker. One of the old casemates was incorporated in the new bunker building. Construction work started in 1939 and the bunker was ready a year later just prior to the German invasion. In May 1940 the advancing German force were able to take the bunker with relative ease.

The first thing the Germans did was to install sanitation in the bunker, something the Belgians had forgotten to do.

At the end of the occupation in 1944, the retreating German forces set fire to the bunker before they left. It wasn’t until 3 years later that the command post was renovated for use by the Civil Defence Agency. The bunker was also expanded to link it with another of the former citadel’s underground casemates.

At the end of the cold war this and other bunkers became redundant. The Civil Defence Agency left the bunker in 1993, handing it over to the City of Ghent. Little or nothing happened in the bunker for several years until it was used by the nearby SMAK art museum for an exhibition. The last time the bunker was open to the public was in 2011 when it featured in the annual Heritage Day.

The City Parks Department uses the chalet that conceal the entrance to the bunker. However, the bunker itself remains unused.