Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bruges
Bruges (Flemish Brugge, French Bruges), the old capital of Flanders, is located on the little river Reie 12km/7.5miles south of the port of Zeebrugge to which it is linked by the Boudewijn-Kanaal. Other canals connect Bruges with Ostende, Nieuwpoort, Veurne, Ghent and Sluis.
Despite the addition of new building and the loss of its old town walls (all but four towers having been demolished since the mid 19th C. to make way for traffic), Bruges with its perfectly preserved medieval town center remains a tourist dream, a magnet drawing more than two million visitors a year. But the town does have thriving industries as well - steel works, calico mills, furniture factories, prefabricated cement works and yeast, paint, television set and outboard engine manufacturers. Bobbin lace, for which Bruges has long been famous, continues to be important. Complementing all this industry is a strong service sector which makes a significant contribution to the local economy.
The chief commodities passing through the port of Zeebrugge - the second largest fishing port in Belgium - are crude oil, coal, iron ore, packaged goods and meat.
In addition to its Academy of Fine Arts and its Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Bruges is also proud to play host to the College of Europe.
Surprisingly little is known about the early history of Bruges. There is mention of a "Municipium Brugense" in documents dating from the seventh C. but the name itself seems to have originated with the Vikings who landed at the mouth of the Reie ("bruggja" = place of embarkation). Rather more certain is that Baldwin I (Iron Arm), who died about 879 and who was the founder of the powerful dynasty of Flemish counts and a son-in-law of Charles the Bald of France, built himself a castle here. Trade gradually flourished until Robert the Frisian (died 1093) made the town his capital.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, when still linked by the Reie to the North Sea via the inlet known as the Zwin, Bruges evolved into one of the principal trading cities of the medieval world.
Banking and commercial houses representing seventeen different nations became established in the city, trading in commodities as various as fabrics from Italy and the Orient, fish from Scandinavia, furs from Russia, and spices from Arabia. As the headquarters of the "Flemish Hanse in London" Bruges held a virtual monopoly of trade with England, including the wool trade so vital to the Flemish cloth industry. At the same time it served as the commercial entrepot for the cities of the German Hanseatic League. The city reached a pinnacle of prosperity in the 14th C. when work began on building the town walls. Its wealth at that time can be judged from the remark attributed to Joanna of Navarre, wife of Philip the Fair of France.
Arriving in Bruges in 1301 and catching sight of the burghers' wives with their sumptuous clothes and unmistakable trappings of luxury, she is said to have exclaimed indignantly: "I thought I was the only queen, but here I am surrounded by hundreds".
In the 13th C. passions in the rich Flemish cities were inflamed by disputes between the francophile "Leliaerts" (so-called after the French Lily) and the "Clauwaerts" (after the claws of the Flemish lion), the latter being determined to maintain their traditional independence from France. Exploiting this dissension the French king Philip the Fair seized control of Flanders, appointing Jacques de Châtillon governor. Châtillon's suppression of the Bruges guilds was so harsh that on the night of May 17-18, 1302 the inhabitants rose up in a revolt known as "the Bruges Matins". Led by Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breydel they put to the sword anyone suspected of being French. In the same year an army of Flemish burghers triumphed over the French nobility at the Battle of the Golden Spurs near Kortrijk, ensuring thereby the continued independence and success of the Flemish cities.
The fruits of victory over the French were dissipated however by growing rivalry between Bruges and Ghent. Partly for this reason, but mainly due to the silting up of the Zwin, in the 15th C. Bruges's fortunes fell into decline. At first the signs of impending disaster remained obscured by the outward brilliance of the city under by the Dukes of Burgundy, rulers of the County of Flanders since 1384. The marriages of Philip the Good to Isabella of Portugal in 1430 and of Charles the Bold to Margaret of York in 1468 were both celebrated with great splendor in Bruges. But from 1500 onwards the city's wealthy merchants gradually forsook Bruges for Antwerp and the religious turmoil of the second half of the 16th C. finally brought the era of prosperity to an end.
It was only in the 19th C. that the city roused itself again from the long period of dormancy vividly described by Georges Rodenbach in his melancholy novel "Bruges la Morte". The construction of the Boudewijn-Kanaal in 1907 gave renewed access to the sea, leading, especially after the Second World War, to the siting of major industries along the waterway.
Then an ambitious restoration program was undertaken, rescuing much of the town center from dereliction.Bruges was the center of the Old Flemish School of painters. Here Jan van Eyck painted his famous "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb", the centerpiece of the polyptych for Sint-Baafskathedraal in Ghent, and near here Hugo van der Goes (1440-82), a native of Ghent, lived and died, leaving his most famous work "The Death of the Virgin" to the city. Together with van Eyck's "Madonna and the donor, Canon van der Paele", it now hangs in the Groeninge Museum.The painter most closely associated with Bruges however is Hans Memling (1435-94). Born near Mainz he settled in the town from 1465 onwards. Some of his greatest works can be seen in the Memling Museum housed in the 12th C. Sint-Jansspitaal. Gerard David (1460-1523), a pupil of Memling's, came to Bruges in 1483. Fine pictures by him and by Pieter Pourbus from Gouda can also be seen in the Groeninge Museum.
Trips on the Grachten (canals)
Town Tours and Guided Walks