The city of Bruges, the capital of the province of West Flanders in Belgium, is one of the most visited cities in Europe. Known for its medieval architecture, its historic center was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO 15 years ago.
In the eleventh century, Bruges or Brugge – a word that comes from the Old Norse and means bridges – was an important trade center thanks to a thriving wool industry. The success of this commerce aided in the construction of a network of canals that connected the city with the North Sea, for that reason it is also known as “the Venice of the North”.
This commercial success turned Bruges into one of the principal cities of the old continent; however it declined in the late fifteenth century when foreign traders began to abandon it, turning instead towards the burgeoning Antwerp, near the border with Germany.
As it became isolated from the trade routes, much of the city stayed anchored in a beautiful idyllic past that, fortunately, has been preserved for posterity for over four centuries. Bruges still possesses a serene medieval atmosphere that captivates the traveler.
It is a beautiful city crisscrossed by waterways that are ideal to enjoy walking, by boat or bicycle. You can start your visit with a tour of the Markt Platz, the old medieval market. Next to it is a building with arcades known as Waterhalle, where ships used to unload their goods to be sold at market.
Some historians claim that the global commercial activity that took place here in the late twelfth century could be considered as the beginning of capitalism.
The nearby Burg Square was the political and financial center of the city. The impressive Franc of Bruges palace functioned as the headquarters of the municipal administration for hundreds of years. Nearby is the Civil Archive, built in a Renaissance style and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. According to tradition, some of the blood of Christ brought from the Holy Land in the mid-twelfth century is said to be kept in the Basilica.
But if you want a complete experience of this famous Belgian city, take a boat trip along the canals and journey to places borrowed from pages in a fairy tale. Bruges is even more beautiful and more exciting if it seen from this perspective. There are five piers offering these boat trips from March to November, because in the harsh winter months snow falls on Bruges, giving it an intimate and bucolic feeling.
Rozenhoedkaai is one of the most beautiful piers, probably the most photographed spot in Bruges and one of its iconic images. Additionally, from the Groenerei canal, the view of the old bridges and the historic buildings surrounded by lush greenery during the spring is an unforgettable image not to be missed.
Those who love art should make sure to visit the main gallery of the city, as we must remember that the fifteenth century was the golden age of Bruges, where both business and the arts flourished like nowhere else. Many famous artists came to Bruges, including Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, pioneers of Flemish school of painting.
In the Groeninge Museum, you will see masterpieces by both artists, as well as the superb work of Hieronymus Bosch: The Last Judgment. There is also a beautiful art display at the Cathedral of San Salvador, the oldest church in Bruges, with its beautiful tapestries, Flemish paintings, and unique medieval sepulchers.
Gourmands will marvel at the artistry in making the famous Belgian chocolate in the more than 50 stores run by master chocolatiers. Beer lovers succumb to the pleasure drinking a pitcher of Trappist or Abbey beer in one of the many terraces that adorn this magnificent city. A city that captivates its visitors who have experienced the joy of visiting it. ■