Provided by: Jan D'Hondt/Visit Bruges
Bruges is mysteriously medieval and unashamedly ebullient. Though a city of human proportions, it takes a while to explore its wealth of treasures. The city owes its greatness to history and now wears its Unesco World Heritage Site label with pride.
For centuries the canals of Bruges have linked the city to the sea, a guarantee of wealth and prosperity. International merchants built up Bruges into one of the largest Hanse cities. In the 15th century the city flourished as never before. Large parts of the medieval heritage remained practically intact. Therefore, it is only logical that Unesco designated the entire city centre as a world heritage site. Saunter along the enigmatic canals, the arteries of the city, and immerse yourself in Bruges’ Golden Century.
The economic affluence of the 15th century brought rich merchants to Bruges. They moved into majestic city palaces, packed with works of art. In the wake of the Burgundian dynasty, the great Flemish primitives, including Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling found their creative niches in Bruges. The fine arts reigned supremely and Bruges quickly became the meeting place and source of inspiration for many artists. The world famous masterpieces and other top collections can be seen today in one of the 30 Bruges museums.
In medieval Bruges, polyphonic chamber music and choral music reverberated vibrantly. Internationally renowned polyphonists had the run of the elegant city palaces of the rich Burgundians. Since the 19th century this tradition has been continued in the splendidly restored City Theatre, one of Europe’s best preserved city theatres. And also in the contemporary Concertgebouw (Concert Hall), a stone souvenir of Bruges 2002 when Bruges was the Cultural Capital of Europe, top productions follow one after the other.
At the grand parties in the princely palace of the dukes of Burgundy, romance was all the rage. This is where mysterious stories found their roots. The legend of the Bruges swans came about in the period after Mary of Burgundy’s passing. Pieter Lanchals, a name which means 'long neck', who was one of the town administrators belonging to the court of Maximilian of Austria, was executed in the Bruges market square. Legend has it that Maximilian punished Bruges by obliging the population to keep 'long necks', or swans, on their lakes and canals till eternity. To this day, proud swans guard the Bruges canals. This elegant image, the windy, mediaeval streets and cobbled squares turn Bruges into the most romantic destination.
Back in the early Middle Ages, Bruges was one of Europe’s most important sea ports. One hundred years ago, Bruges revisited this successful past when it turned the port of Zeebrugge into one of Europe’s most significant ports for container traffic and a considerable gas terminal for a large part of Europe. For cruise ships too, this port, right by the North Sea, is an excellent mooring place at a stone’s throw from the historic heart of the World Heritage city of Bruges.
When the Flemish cloth industry lost in importance in the 15th century, Bruges concentrated on the production of various luxury goods. Guilds and, later on, trade organisations, kept a watchful eye on, and protected, the creation of these quality products. Besides panel painting by the Flemish primitives, Bruges excelled in the goldsmith art, the production of illuminated manuscripts, diamond cutting and lace. Today, the World Heritage city is still an international centre of refined craftsmanship. Bruges is a leader in the field of calligraphy and letter sculpting. Moreover, two reputed colleges train culinary talent, allowing them to create gastronomic furore in Bruges and overseas. The capital of chocolate is the obvious place where you will find the cream of artisan chocolatiers.