Bruges – “Venice of the North”, Belgium

Bruges, Venice of the North

Ghent, Bruges. What do you know about these Belgian cities? If you’ve been there, you know a lot. And if you remember the content of the book “The Legend of Ulenspiegel” by Charles de Koster, you know everything! These cities can be considered the heroes of the book – along with Uhlenspiegel, the Duke of Anjou, etc.

The famous Flemish city of Bruges is in the west of Belgium. It is an amazing city. Its historic center is included in the UNESCO world heritage list.

Before 1830 the state of Belgium on the map of Europe did not exist. Since the IX century there was a county of Flanders, which by the XIII century flourished – it was a land of traders and artisans.

Journey to the Middle Ages

Bruges was founded in the ninth century by the Vikings. Its name comes from the ancient Scandinavian word Bryggja, which means “harbor, pier.” Bruges is the pearl of Belgium and one of the most romantic cities in the world. Narrow canals, carved facades of “doll’s” houses, ancient lanterns, horse-drawn carriages, white swans. For more than three hundred years, the city has hardly changed. The Middle Ages still reign supreme in Bruges. The historic center of Bruges was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

Bruges’s main square is the Market Square (Grote Markt)

Some of the buildings are styled like in the old days and are difficult to distinguish from those of medieval times.

A monument to the national heroes of Flanders, the leaders of the 1302 revolt, Jan Breudel and Pieter de Coninck

The Belfried (Belfried, Belford, Beffrois) Tower, on Market Square in the heart of Bruges, is one of the city’s most famous landmarks (83 m). The bell tower of the Belfried served as a symbol of power and urban liberties of medieval Bruges. Originally Beffrois were watchtowers. Later, such structures were converted into city (veche) towers, where important state documents, treasury and symbols of state power were kept and city meetings were held. The base of the tower was erected as early as in 1240, but the upper part of the octagonal bell tower was completed only 200 years later.

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Burg Square

A square with old buildings situated around it. On the same square overlooks the beautiful facade of the town hall, which served as an example for many later town halls in Belgium.

The town hall was built in the late 14th century in the Gothic style. There are 33 statues of Counts and Countesses of Flanders on the building.

“Basilica of the Holy Blood”.

One of the most famous temples, is located on the square of Bourg. It contains an important Christian relic – a fragment of the cloth with which, according to legend, Joseph of Arimathea wiped the blood from Jesus’ body after his removal from the cross, and which was brought from Jerusalem by the Count of Flanders, Dideric Van de Alsace. It is a Roman Catholic church built in the early twelfth century. The building consists of two parts – the Lower Chapel in Romanesque style and the Gothic Upper Chapel. The church is decorated with a statue of Madonna and Child. In addition to the blood of Christ, there are relics of St. Basil. Such relics of the basilica allow it to remain a center of pilgrimage for centuries.

The Bishop’s Palace, or as it is also called, the residence of the Prévost:

The building was built in the 17th century in the Baroque style. The building was once the home of the abbots of St. Donatos Cathedral, who were at the head of the administration of Flanders. Since 1559, Bruges became the seat of the bishops, and the building next to the cathedral was given to the bishop’s residence.

The Cathedral of Our Lady, or Notre Dame aka Onze-Lieve-Vruvekirk Church, or the Church of Our Lady:

The tallest building in Bruges (tower 122 meters high), the foundation of which was laid in the 13th century. The cathedral houses the “Madonna of Bruges,” the only work by Michelangelo transported to Flanders during his lifetime.

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Ave Maria fountain sculpture

Michelangelo’s followers also have the Madonna not holding her son close to her, nor even looking at him – her gaze is directed away, as if her fate is revealed to him.

This sculpture is in the square in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady:

Simon Stevin, Flemish mathematician, mechanic, and engineer.

Simon Stevin became known above all for his book De Thiende, published in Flemish and French in 1585. It was after this book that the use of decimal fractions became widespread in Europe. He also proved the law of equilibrium of a body on an inclined plane, proceeding from the impossibility of a perpetual motion. In 1586 he experimentally proved that bodies of different masses fall with the same acceleration Stevin wrote works on mechanics, geometry, invented double-entry bookkeeping (debit/credit). In 1590 he compiled tables showing the time of the tides at any place according to the position of the moon.

Vives, Juan Luis, was a Spanish theologian, philosopher, humanist, and educator. Luis Vives was the author of approximately 60 works in Latin. He was on friendly terms with Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More. Vives came from a Jewish family of Christian converts and many of his close relatives were persecuted by the Inquisition, executed on charges of crypto-Judaism.

The buildings of the Freedom of Bruges.

Neoclassical part, built 1722-1727, former count’s castle.

The old chancellery, built in 1534-1537.

A gilded statue of Justice stands guard over the pediment, as this building was the seat of the court until the 1980s. The building is also decorated with bronze sculptures of Moses and Aaron.

The arch on the right side of the building leads to Blind Donkey Street, in Flemish Blind Ezelstraat:

It is on Blind Donkey Street that the bolt that once locked the city gates is preserved.

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Up until the 18th century, Burg was surrounded by a wall, and the gates were locked at night. The western square was once occupied by the Sten, an 11th century tower, of which today only the lower part with the gate remains.

Almost all streets of the city are already sights in themselves. Many of them carefully, through the centuries, preserve interesting stories and unusual facts.

The narrowest street in the city is called Stoofstraat (Bath).

Northern Venice

This is how Bruges is called because of its numerous canals. Along the canals stand the majestic churches and most famous museums of Bruges. The winding streets crisscrossed by broad canals are a true epitome of the medieval chivalrous spirit. Time seems to stand still here. Vintage carriages pulled by high-end Flemish horses constantly ply the streets.

Lake of Love

The streets wind around toy-like carved houses and magnificent canals, leading dreamy passersby to the wonderfully beautiful Lake of Love, or Lake Minnewater, around which a romantic park sprawls. These places could not do without a romantic love story…

An old sailor and his daughter Minna arrived in Bruges, which was not yet a city but only a small village surrounded by woods and marshes. Saying goodbye to the sea and feeling that his life was drawing to a close, he decided to arrange the fate of his daughter by giving her in marriage. Having chosen, in his opinion, a worthy groom, the old man informed Minna. But the girl was already in love with another – a young warrior from a neighbouring village called Stromberg. The young men concealed their feelings, fearing that their father would not approve of their marriage. Unfortunately, the country was invaded by the Romans, and the young man went off to war. The lovers parted, swearing their love and fidelity to each other. Hoping that in time she might be able to change her father’s mind, Minna procrastinated, not agreeing to the marriage. But the old sailor’s patience came to an end, and he declared that after the third sunrise the marriage would be consummated. In despair, the girl ran away into the woods. Some time later, Stromberg returned from a campaign. Learning that his beloved had disappeared, he set out to find her… And so he did. But it was too late. Unable to endure the long wanderings and hardships, the girl died in his arms. In memory of his beloved, Stromberg decided to create a unique monument. On the bank of the body of water where he found Minna, the young man placed a heavy stone. And then, blocking the stream, he buried his beloved in a drained stream.

A tower stands in place of the stone from the legend,

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and swans, the symbol of love and fidelity, gracefully glide on the Lake of Love.

There’s another story about swans… They have been bred in Bruges since the late 15th century.

In this way the emperor of Austria decided to perpetuate the memory of his councilor, who was executed by the citizens.

The emperor called him Pieter Lanchals, which means “long neck”, and on the family coat of arms of Lanchals were swans, so Maximilian made the emperor keep swans on his lakes and channels till the end of times.

Interestingly, these faithful and beautiful birds always return to Bruges after they leave for their wintering grounds.

The traditional dish in Bruges restaurants is mussels. In a pot – a portion for one person

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