PO Box 744,
Strolling along Bruges’ alleys, picturesque canals and verdant ramparts you cannot but fall hopelessly in love with her elegant mysteriousness.
Although it is true that Bruges has one foot firmly in the past, it is equally true that she fully invests in her future. It is therefore no surprise that the 14 city museums house the Flemish Primitives as well as contemporary art. Moreover, a goodly number of enthralling cultural events enrapture both the townspeople of Bruges and her visitors throughout the year.
The delights of Bruges’ Burgundian life can be sampled in one of the countless cafés and restaurants, from authentic pubs to trendy eating places and famous gourmet restaurants. The citizens of Bruges have known for centuries how to eat and drink well, you see.
A Bruges Story
History in a nutshell
Water played a crucial role in the birth and development of Bruges. At the place where the city was first born, a number of streams flowed together to form a river (the River Reie), which then ran northwards through the coastal plain. Through a series of tidal creeks, the river eventually reached the sea. Little wonder, then, that even as far back as Roman times there was already considerable seafaring activity in this region.
This has been proven by the discovery of the remains of two seagoing ships from this period, dating from the second half of the 3rd century or the first half of the 4th century. Even so, it would be another five centuries before the name ‘Bruges’ first began to appear – the word being a derivative of the old-German word ‘brugj’, which means ‘mooring place’. Its growing importance also resulted in it becoming the main fortified residence of the counts of Flanders, so that from the 11th century onwards the city was not only a prosperous trading metropolis, but also a seat of considerable political power.
When the city’s direct link with the sea was in danger of silting-up in the 12th century, Bruges went through a period of anxiety. Fortunately, the new waterway of the Zwin brought relief. As a result, Bruges was able to call itself the most important trade centre of Northwest Europe in the following century. The world’s first ever stock exchange (‘Beurs’ in Dutch) was also founded in Bruges. These market activities took place in the square in front of the house owned by a powerful local family of brokers, the Vander Beurse family. As a result, their name became linked for all time with this kind of financial institution. In spite of the typical medieval maladies, from epidemics to political unrest and social inequality, the citizens of Bruges prospered, and soon the city developed a magnet-like radiation. Around 1340, the inner city numbered no fewer than 35.000 inhabitants.
Success continually increased. In the 15th century - Bruges’ Golden Age - things improved further when the royal house of Burgundy took up residence in the city. New luxury goods were produced and sold in abundance, and famous painters such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling - the great Flemish primitives – found their creative niche here. The fine arts flourished, and besides a substantial number of fine churches and unique merchant houses, a monumental town hall was also erected. Bruges’ success seemed imperishable.
The sudden death in 1482 of the much loved ruler, Mary of Burgundy, heralded the start of new and less fortunate times for the city. The relationship between the citizens of Bruges and their lord, the widower Maximilian, turned sour. The Burgundian court left the city, with the international traders following in its wake. Long centuries of wars and changes of political power took their toll. By the middle of the 19th century Bruges had become an impoverished city. Strangely enough, its fortunes were changed for the better by the writing of a novel.
With great care, Bruges took its first steps into tourism. In Bruges la Morte (1892), Georges Rodenbach aptly describes Bruges as a somewhat sleepy, yet extremely mysterious place. Above all, the 35 photographs included in the book made its readers curious about what they might find. Soon Bruges’ magnificent patrimony was rediscovered and its mysterious intimacy turned out to be its greatest asset. Building on this enthusiasm, the city was provided with a new seaport, which was called Zeebrugge. The pulling power of Bruges proved to be a great success and UNESCO added the medieval city centre to its World Heritage list. The rest is history.
PO Box 744,