The heyday of Bruges was in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the city enjoyed a high reputation and prosperity thanks to the cloth makers and the Hanseatic League. The city, criss-crossed by canals, has been largely preserved to this day and is an outstanding Gothic monument.
Old town of Bruges: facts
|Official title:||Old town of Bruges|
|Cultural monument:||Well-preserved medieval town center with numerous buildings worth seeing, which reflect the economic and cultural development; including: Cloth Hall (13th / 14th century; 85 mx 43 m); 83 m high belfry (from 1240); Gothic town hall (1376–1420); Basilica of the Holy Blood (lower church 1139–49, upper church 14th century); Old Customs House (1477); Freiamt (1520-1525 / 1722-27); Beguinage (1245); Church of Our Lady (13th – 15th centuries; “Madonna with Child” by Michelangelo); Groeninge Museum with masterpieces by Old Flemish painters (Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling)|
|Country:||Belgium, see pharmacylib|
|Location:||Bruges, West Flanders Province|
|Meaning:||Important city at the end of the Middle Ages with numerous artistic impulses for architecture and painting|
Old town of Bruges: history
|7th century||First mentioned as Municipium Brugense|
|End of 11th century||Residence of the Counts of Flanders|
|13.-15. Century||Development of Bruges, still with a direct connection to the North Sea through the Zwin, into one of the most important and richest trading cities in Northern Europe; Wool and cloth trade, staging area of the Hanseatic League|
|1348||Bruges to Burgundy|
|from 1500||Gradual silting up of the Zwin, thereby loss of access to the sea, emigration of merchants to Ghent and Antwerp|
|from 1600||Decline of the city|
|1896||Construction of the Zeebrugge seaport|
Old town of Bruges: the pearl of Flanders
Bruges is considered to be the most beautiful of all Flemish cities. Rich in historic brick houses and winding streets, criss-crossed by atmospheric canals, it seems to have preserved its medieval past almost intact.
It was the year 1134 when a storm surge tore a fairway into the Zwin bay. A lucky coincidence that from then on gave the city direct access to the North Sea and brought it prosperity and success for centuries. International dealers from Lübeck, Hamburg, Genoa, Venice, Florence and other European cities were among the regular visitors and built Bruges into one of the largest Hanseatic cities. Even today, for example, the monumental town hall with its elongated Gothic facade, the 83-meter-high belfry on the Great Market Square and the many guild and patrician houses with their staggered Renaissance gables and chandeliers in the main halls bear witness to this time.
In addition to the Stalhof in London, the Bryggen in Bergen and the Peterhof in Novgorod, the Hanseatic League set up its office on the North Sea in Bruges. The center of this office, the house of the Osterlinge (= house of the Baltic Sea merchants) is still present today in remnants. Bruges achieved growing fame and a high reputation above all with the production of high-quality cloth; Bruges fabrics were sought-after goods throughout Europe. In the warehouses at the port, the bales of fabric piled meters high next to pleasantly smelling sacks of spices up to the ceilings and soon Bruges was generating the highest sales from the offices. So it is hardly surprising that the world’s first stock exchange building was located in the house of the Bruges merchant family Van der Beurse. There merchants from Bruges met foreign traders to exchange money and to trade.
In the 15th century Flanders came under Burgundian rule and Bruges culture, architecture and banking flourished. The city flourished like never before: The Burgundian dukes quickly chose the town as one of their favorite places to stay and brought enormous luxury and prosperity to the citizens. At that time, Bruges was one of the richest cities in Western Europe and the largest world trading port in Northern Europe. The great Flemish masters of late medieval painting such as Jan van Eyck (1390 to 1441) and Hans Memling, born in Seligenstadt (between 1433 and 1440 to 1494), found their creative place of work in Bruges. Memling’s works were created in his house on Rozenhoedkaai. Today they can be admired in the Bruges St. Johannis Hospital, including the famous reliquary of St. Ursula and the St. John’s altar. During this time, Michelangelo also succeeded in creating a masterpiece, the Madonna and Child in white marble from Italy to Bruges, where it can be seen today in the Gothic Church of Our Lady.
At the end of the 15th century, the vigorous and radiant city was sucked the spirits of life from the pulsating veins. What happened? The sea access to Zwin increasingly silted up, and when the direct connection to the sea was completely cut off and ships could no longer dock, the importance of the city as a trading center declined rapidly. The Burgundian court withdrew and Bruges had to surrender its leading position in Flanders to Antwerp in 1520. The city became impoverished and forgotten. It was not until the Belgian writer Georges Rodenbach (1855–1898) drew attention to Bruges again with his novella Bruges la Morte (The Dead Bruges), which was published in 1892. In it he lamented her sad condition. His character Hugues Viane he lets melancholy thoughts express: “In this way the city, which was once beautiful and loved, embodied the object of his longing, Bruges was his dead. And the dead one was Bruges. «Strangely, it is precisely the dreary development that gives rise to today’s fascination with the city, and visitors can be happy about Bruges’ centuries of slumber. The industrialization that emerged in the 19th century did not claim any sacrifices in the small and manageable Bruges. The medieval city center has been preserved without unsightly buildings and gives the city its attractive and thoroughly romantic character to this day. Instead of high-rise buildings, the mansions adorned with turrets and stepped gables tell of the city’s former glory.
Today the city benefits from the »dead Bruges« as a magnet for tourism. A stroll through the historic city center on the cobblestones will not help you escape the wonderful smell of chocolate. Soon 50 chocolatiers will provide this sweet background to the already inviting cityscape. Every day they create pralines and Bruges »Swaentjes«, true, seductive dreams made of chocolate, with fine craftsmanship.