Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges (pronounced Bruzh) was founded in the 9th century and is the capital of Belgium’s West Flanders province. With most of its medieval architecture intact the city looks like something out of a fairy tale. Since 2000, the historic city centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Among the city’s claims to fame is that the first book in English ever printed was published in Bruges.
The Minnewater is a canalized lake with a small park with plenty of swans. The story goes that in 1488 the people of Bruges executed one of the town administrators. The administrator’s last name was Lanchals which means ‘long neck’ and his family coat of arms featured a white swan. Maximilian of Austria punished the town for the execution by ordering the town to care for swans for eternity.
The guinage of Bruges was founded in 1245. In 1937 it became a monastery for the nuns of the Order of Saint Benedict.

The town is often called “The Venice of the North” because of its canals. A 30-minute canal ride is only €8 and it’s a great way to see Bruges from a different perspective.

Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (The Church of Our Lady) is the world’s second highest brick tower. The steeple is 122.3 meters (401.25 feet) tall. It took 200 years to complete the church, from the 13th – 15th century.
Inside is the marble sculpture Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo around 1504. It is the only one of his statues to leave Italy during his lifetime. It had been purchased by two wealthy brothers and donated to the church in 1514. It has been taken twice by foreign invaders. In 1794, the statue was ordered to Paris but was returned after Napoleon’s defeat. In 1944, German soldiers smuggled it to Germany, hidden in mattresses in a Red Cross ambulance. Two years later is was found and returned to Bruges.
Bruges is a city with two town squares. The largest one is Grote Markt and this was the commercial center of medieval Bruges. The main monument is the 13th century belfry tower. It is 83 meters (~272 feet) tall and is supposed to have a great view of the city. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to make it to the top of the belfry. Around the square are guild houses.
Burg is the second square and is the administrative section of town. There are some great looking buildings from various architectural styles. In the corner of the square is the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek (The Basilica of the Holy Blood).
It was built from 1134 to 1157 as the chapel for the Count of Flanders. It was became a minor basilica in 1923. The relic of the Holy Blood (Christ’s blood) was brought to Bruges from the Holy Land in 1150 after the Second Crusade. Every year there is a mile-long religious procession and many people dress as medieval knights.
Seeing Ghent and Bruges made for a long day trip from Brussels. Both cities are well worth a visit. But after a while it all becomes information overload. It’s probably best to spend a full day in each city as opposed to trying to see both in one day. I originally thought about trying to squeeze in a half-day visit to Antwerp but I’m glad I didn’t. This way I have an excuse to visit Belgium again. Maybe next year if I manage to make it to the Netherlands.

1 comment:

  1. Seems like I was flying over Bruges and its history. Nice Blogging, Cristopher.