Bruges, the largest canal-based city of the province of West Flanders, in the Flemish Region of Belgium, a World Heritage Site of UNESCO since 2000, is one of the most historical significant cities in Europe.
With a name deriving from Dutch, Bruges is known as Brugghe (meaning “bridge“).
The city had various names though the time, starting from Bruggas, Brvggas, Brvccia to Bruciam, Bruociam, Bruggis, Bricge, Brugensis, Brugias, Bruges, Bruggas, Brugis, and finally Brugge, since the year of 1116.
The first fortifications of the city were built by Julius Caesar in order to protect the coastal area against pirates. With a strategic position, Bruges soon became a gateway to The Amber Road, an important trading route, and was quickly known as the “chief commercial city” of the world.
With an impressive wool and cloth market and various grains and wines brought into the city by the English, Bruges developed in the 14th century to become the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries, attracting a large number of artists and bankers from all over Europe. With oil painting and lace industry taking off, the city blossomed, until its fall, after the modernization of trading routes, in the 1700’s, when the city dropped in importance.
With most of its medieval architecture intact, Bruges is the perfect place for experiencing the exchange of influences on the development of architecture.
Grote Markt, an area of about 1 hectare, is located in the medieval heart of the city, dominated by the 83 meter high Belfry tower. The cloth hall and tower, date all the way back to 1240, but they were rebuilt after the fire which destroyed them, in 1280. The tower used to be the location were all the important documents of the city were preserved, but it was also used at a watchtower. With a large number of bells, each having a distinct sound and function, the tower warns people against danger, indicated the time and also announces important events.
In the center of the market stands the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, honoring the two leaders of the “Battle of the Golden Spurs” which took place in the 1302, when the Flemish raised against the occupation of the French king.
The Provincial Court, located in the Grote Markt, is built on the site were the medieval “water halls” were located (covered halls where the ships could unload their cargo for storage or to sell).
Because the Flemish coastline was constantly flooded by the Northern Sea, the city was moved inland and the water canals were built as a network which enabled traders to bring their goods to the Water Halls, situated in the Grote Markt.
Nowadays, the water canals aren’t used by ships anymore, but only by tourist boats.
With a perfect blend of rich history, medieval constructions, water canals and bridges, Bruges is probably one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium.