City (pop., 2000 est.: 224,180), capital of East Flanders province, northwestern Belgium. One of the chief towns of the medieval county of Flanders, Ghent was one of the largest towns in northern Europe by the 13th century. Its prosperity was based on its manufacture of luxury cloths, which were famous throughout Europe. It began to decline in the late 16th century, when its cloth was unable to compete with England's. Its economy revived with the introduction of cotton-spinning machinery (in particular, a power loom smuggled out of England), and it subsequently became the centre of the Belgian textile industry. Ghent has many fine museums, notably the Museum of Fine Arts, which contains a treasury of paintings by Flemish masters who lived and worked in Ghent during the 16th and 17th centuries. Belgium's second largest port, it is also a horticultural centre.