Facts about Bruges

We found 31 facts about Bruges

Cradle of Flemish painting

Bruges is a small Belgian city that, in the Middle Ages, was a commercial and financial powerhouse of this part of Europe. At the time, it was one of the largest and most magnificent cities in the world, being compared to Venice, Milan, or Florence. Its prosperity ended in the 16th century, only to be revived again in the 19th century thanks to tourism. Today it is one of Europe’s most visited cities, with the medieval atmosphere of the unchanged streets of the historic center to offer.

Bruges is located in northwestern Belgium.

It is the Flemish Region, also often referred to as Flanders, one of Belgium’s three federal regions. The region is divided into five provinces: Antwerp, Limburg, East Flanders, Flemish Brabant and West Flanders. Bruges is located in West Flanders and is its capital.

The city area is 138.4 square kilometers.

According to 2014 data, Burges had a population of more than 117.300, giving a population density of 848 people per square kilometer.

Burges is not located directly on the North Sea, it is an inland port connected by canals to Ostend and Zeebrugge, as well as to Ghent.

At one time Bruges was a major port, even though it was not on the sea. It had a connection to it via canals. When these became sited up, it lost it. It regained it thanks to a storm in 1134, which created the natural Zwin Canal.

The city’s name derives from the Old High German word bridge.

In historical documents, the name Bruges first appeared only in the 9th century. It was then that the first coins with the name Briggia appeared.

The first fortifications in the area of Bruges were built as early as the 1st century BC.

They were built after Julius Caesar conquered the area to protect it from pirates.

From the ancient Romans, the area was taken over by the Franks around the 4th century.

In the 9th century, the lands were invaded by the Vikings, necessitating the strengthening of fortifications. Authority in Flanders at the time was held by Baldwin I Iron Arm, who was the first Count of Flanders.

Bruges was granted city rights in 1128.

New walls were built in the city and the construction of canals began.

As early as the beginning of the 13th century, the city belonged to the Hanseatic League (an association of Northern European trading cities from the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era).

A golden period for Bruges began then. The quay was developed so that ships coming to Bruges with Normandy grain, Gascony wine, and cloth could dock at it. Bruges became a major trading city with areas around the Mediterranean. It also began trading spices with the Levant (a term for countries on the eastern, Asian coast of the Mediterranean).

In 1409, the Huis ter Beurze inn opened in Bruges, which became the first stock exchange and the most developed financial market in the Netherlands in the 15th century.

The city had a thriving banking and trading system. The interests of traders were protected by 21 consuls. The famous Roles de Damme basic maritime code was also established there.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the city was described as one of the “cradles of European capitalism.”

In the Middle Ages, Bruges was one of the largest and most magnificent cities in the world. It was a city that rivaled such powers as Milan, Florence, and Venice.

At the beginning of the 14th century, King Philip the Beautiful of France entered Flanders and demanded a high contribution from the country.

The tyranny of the French triggered a revolt by the townspeople. In 1302, Bruges weavers led by Pieter de Coninck slaughtered French knights (the so-called Bruges Tomorrows). Anyone who could not pronounce the formula Scilt ende vrient - shield and friend-correctly was killed. Soon there was a decisive slash with the French. The insurgent forces consisted of peasants, dyers, weavers, and Flemish butchers, armed with axes, pitchforks, spades and goedendagi (medieval infantry white weapons used for hand-to-hand combat). At Courtrai, near Kortrijk, the insurgent army defeated a good French army comprising the flower of European chivalry.

It was a battle referred to as the “Battle of the Golden Spurs.”

The extent of the French defeat was evidenced by the 700 golden spurs found after the battle.

One of the most important monuments in Bruges is the one commemorating the events from below Kortrijk, the Battle of the Golden Spurs.

It is a monument to the weaver Jan Breydel and the butcher Pieter de Coninck. It is located in the central square of the Grote Markt.

Bruges of the 15th century was a place where many artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe gathered.

Duke Philip III the Good of Burgundy established his courts in Bruges, as well as in Brussels and Lille, causing various prominent individuals to flock there. There was patronage, so various branches of the arts developed.

Bruges became the cradle of Flemish painting.

The new Flemish school presented the technique of oil painting. Prominent painters and miniaturists were active there. The painter Jan van Eyck settled there, started a family and lived there until his death. Hans Memling, among others, also created there. Thanks to the Bening family, Bruges illumination became famous, which developed thanks to Vrelant and Lidet.

In the early 16th century, when the Zwin Canal, which was the “window to the world,” the source of the city’s power, was silted up, the city began to lose its commercial importance.

Antwerp was becoming a commercial powerhouse. Lace-making (the famous Brabant lace lace with a pattern of swirling branches on a tulle background) declined in the 17th century.

A slow process of stagnation began for Bruges.

Attempts were made to modernize the ports, but the city never again regained its former glory or status. The city was called Bruges-la-Morte, which means Dead Burges.

The city’s economic revival didn’t come until the 19th century due to tourism.

The city fully preserved its medieval character, monuments, and works of art, which attracted tourists. Bruges turned out to be one of the most visited European cities.

Bruges has a nearly 100-kilometer-long network of active canals, by which it is connected to Ostend, Zeebrugge (a port built by the Germans during World War I for U-boats), and Ghent.

Because of its sizable network of canals, Bruges is often referred to as the Venice of Flanders.

The historic center of Bruges was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

In 2002, the city was elected European Capital of Culture.

Bruges has retained its original Gothic buildings and many monuments gathered in the city.

These include one of the city’s symbols - a monumental tower (beffroi - a castle watchtower or city belfry in the form of a free-standing tower or attached to the city hall building) from the 13th-15th centuries, with a carillon (an ensemble of tower bells on which the melody can be struck with the hearts of bells using a special keyboard) consisting of 47 bells. The tower is located on the Grote Markt market square. Next to the belfry are market halls from the 13th-15th and 16th centuries.

Another landmark is the 12th-century Cathedral of St. Salvador-the main church of the Diocese of Bruges and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood was built in the 12th century as a chapel for the rulers of Flanders. It is the site of a relic that is said to be the Blood of Christ, which was brought back in the 12th century from the Holy Land (during the Second Crusade) by Count Thierry of Flanders of Alsace. Because of the relic, the basilica has been a pilgrimage center for centuries.

The relic is placed in a crystal vial, and this one is inside a small glass vessel decorated at each end with a gold crown.

It is usually stored in the tabernacle of the side altar but is regularly brought out for adoration by the faithful. Each year there is a colorful Procession of the Holy Blood on the occasion of the Ascension, led by the Bishop of Bruges. He leads the relic through the streets of the city, accompanied by locals re-enacting biblical scenes.

Another historic church of Bruges is the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, inside of which is a sculpture by Michelangelo.

The church was built between 1290 and 1549, and its distinctive feature is its 122.30-meter high brick tower, the second-highest brick tower in the world, after the tower of St. Martin’s Church in Landshut, Germany (130.6 meters) in Bavaria, In the chancel behind the main altar are the tombs of Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy and his daughter, Princess Mary. The gilded bronze figures of father and daughter rest on slabs of black stone. Both have crowns on their heads, and the duke is in full armor with the Order of the Golden Fleece.

The most valuable piece of equipment in the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary is Michelangelo’s sculpture Madonna and Child, also known as the Madonna of Bruges.

The sculpture, made of white Carrara marble, dates to 1503-1504 and is one of the few works by Michelangelo that left Italy during the artist’s lifetime. It was originally intended for the altarpiece of Siena Cathedral but was purchased by the Mouscron family of Bruges. The merchant Jan Mouscron made the purchase while in Tuscany. The merchant kept the statue in his chapel for years, where it is said to have been admired by Durer himself. In 1514 it was donated to the church.

The Madonna of Bruges has been stolen twice.

In 1794, during the French Revolution, French revolutionaries took control of Bruges and took the statue with them to Paris. Only after the end of the Napoleonic era, in 1816, did the statue return to its original place, but not for long. It was stolen a second time in 1944 by Germans fleeing Bruges after American troops arrived in that part of Europe. Along with the statue, the Nazis also looted other Renaissance works of art. They transported the supposedly mattress-wrapped cargo across the border in a Red Cross truck. Eventually, the statue ended up in the  Altaussee salt mine, where it was found in 1945 by a special team tasked by President F.D. Roosevelt with the mission of rescuing artworks stolen by the Nazis throughout Europe. Eventually, the Madonna and Child was returned to Bruges.

Bruges also has a beautiful, mysterious chapel-the Jerusalemkerk.

Its origin is connected with the merchant Adorno family. In the second half of the 13th century, this family came to Flanders from Genoa. They applied for the privilege of running a cantina, which gave them handsome profits. Members of this family were often involved in the political life of Bruges, as well as all of Flanders. One prominent member of the family was Anselm Adorno, who lived in the 15th century and founded the Jerusalemkerk and turned the chapel into a work of art. He was involved in various political initiatives but lost the support of the authorities. As a result of riots in the city, he was taken into custody and was accused of embezzling money from the city’s coffers. He preserved his life thanks to a massive financial penalty and public penance (barefoot, with his head shaved and stripped of his clothes, he begged the mayor for forgiveness).

Anselm Adorno also engaged in diplomatic activities.

He visited many places in Europe and beyond. He also ended up in Jerusalem, where, after seeing the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, he decided to fund a similar one in Bruges.

The Jerusalemkerk Chapel has been in the hands of the Adorno family for centuries and is used for family celebrations.

It has also been opened to the public. The chapel was modeled after the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, so a special tunnel was carved behind the altar, at the end of which a statue of Christ was placed. The altar with a rock-like setting is decorated with bas-reliefs of skulls, snakes and the instruments of Christ’s passion. In the center of the chapel rests the wife of its founder and her husband’s heart. For Anselm was attacked and killed during his last expedition to Scotland, and his heart was brought to Bruges and buried next to his wife.

Bruges was the birthplace of the Flemish Primitivist school of painting.

It was the center of patronage and development of medieval painting.

Bruges is home to the College of Europe.

It is a prestigious college, training in European economics, law, and politics.

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