A brief history of Bruges

30Dec13

When I visit a new city, I like to learn a bit about its history — so I hope you’ll indulge a brief history of Bruges.

No one knows exactly when Bruges was founded, but we do know that there was already a fortified settlement here when Julius Caesar and his troops arrived.

Bruges tower 1010863 BLOG

Trade between England and Scandinavia took off in the 9th century, and by 1100 Bruges was well established as a market town. On July 27, 1128 Bruges — or Brugge, in Flemish — officially became a city. The medieval gates still stand, though today they bring cars into the city instead of trade.

Bruges gate 010502 BLOG

Bruges gate 1010717 BLOG

Bruges gate 1010993 BLOG

Bruges gate 1010491 BLOG

Bruges’ early residents were shrewd financial innovators. In 1309 they established the world’s first stock market, which created an explosion of trade and commerce. At its height, Bruges had more than 200,000 residents — one of the largest populations in medieval Europe.

But Bruges’ economy began to collapse in the 1500s when silt started accumulating in the Zwin channel. Trade declined as access to the sea was cut off, and by the 1900s Bruges’ population had dropped to only 50,000.

Ironically, Bruges’ decline helped preserve its charm: Without capital to renovate and rebuild, the city was effectively frozen in time. Walking through the city today probably feels much like it did 500 years ago.

Bruges Jerusalem 1010781 BLOG

Bruges St Anna 1010290 BLOG

Bruges tower 1010488 BLOG

Jerusalem church 1010288 BLOG

Because the terrain is flat — and because most of the houses are only two or three stories tall — the churches’ spires seem to tower over the city.

Bruges towers 1010733 BLOG

View from top 1010468 BLOG

Bruges small canal 1020029 BLOG

Likewise, the medieval Belfry of Bruges (the Belfort) feels omnipresent.

Bruges square 1010313 BLOG

Bruges tower 1010300 BLOG

Bruges tower 1010340 BLOG

Begun in the late 1200s, the tower got its iconic octagonal parapet in 1486. It was intended in part as a fire lookout, but ironically, it burned in 1493. In was rebuilt, only to burn again in 1791. The version of the eight-sided summit we see today dates from the early 1800s.

Bruges tower 1010356 BLOG

We also visited some of the grand monuments, which were indeed impressive.

Bruges rathaus 1010332 BLOG

Bruges statue 1010350 BLOG

Bruges square 1010324 BLOG

But what we loved most about Bruges was getting lost among the small streets …

Bruges nunnery 1020015 BLOG

Bruges alley 1020023 BLOG

Bruges street 1010934 BLOG

Bruges street 1010283 BLOG

… and basking in the silence that becalmed the city every evening.

Bruges bridge 1010571 CX BLOG

Bruges canal 1010553 BLOG

It’s hard to believe that we must leave Bruges already tomorrow. But more adventures await …



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