Historic city in northwest Belgium; capital of West Flanders province, about 96 km/60 mi northwest of Brussels and 16 km/10 mi from the North Sea, to which it is connected by canal; population (2003 est) 117,200. The port handles coal, iron ore, oil, and fish; local industries include lace, textiles, railway cars, ships, communications equipment, processed food, industrial glass, beer, furniture, motors, and tourism. Bruges was the capital of medieval Flanders and, at its zenith during the 14th century, was mainland Europe's major wool-producing town as well as its chief market town.
History Bruges was founded in the 9th century, and by the 11th century it became a centre of trade with England. By the 12th century it was recognized as the most important town in, and the capital of, Flanders; it was here that the counts of Flanders were proclaimed. During the 13th and 14th centuries Bruges claimed equal place with Ghent, and was the recognized centre of the Hanseatic League in Northern Europe. It was one of the chief wool-processing centres of Flanders, and (with a population of some 200,000) kept its premier position among the trading towns of Europe before suffering a decline in the 15th century, partly due to the silting up of the estuary on which the town was sited. The Order of the Golden Fleece was instituted here by Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy, in 1430. Bruges was captured by the French in 1794, and became part of the united Netherlands in 1815. Later, in 1830, it became a part of the kingdom of Belgium. The commercial and industrial revival of the city began only in 1895, with start of extensive repairs to the port. The canal connecting Bruges with Zeebrugge (on the North Sea) was opened in 1907. Bruges was occupied by German forces during both world wars.
The city owes its name to the fact that it originated at a bridge (brug) over an inlet of the sea.
Features Among many historic buildings are the 13th–14th-century Cathedral of St Salvator; the church of Notre Dame (13th–15th centuries), featuring a Michelangelo statue of the Virgin and Child; the 12th-century Hospital of St John, containing several masterpieces by Hans Memling; the 14th-century city hall; and the 13th-century market hall or cloth-workers hall. Bruge was the cradle of Flemish art during the rule of the Burgundian dukes in Flanders (14th–15th centuries). Jan van Eyck, Gerard David, and many other masters are richly represented in the city's museums, churches, and public buildings. Bruges's College of Europe is the oldest centre of European studies.
Art and architecture The town still keeps its medieval appearance to a very great extent, and its old city walls and medieval fortified gates are still intact. The old city is remarkable for the grandeur of its Gothic buildings, in particular the Cathedral of St Salvator and the church of Notre Dame. The cathedral contains a number of paintings. The church of Notre Dame contains the tomb of Charles the Bold and of his daughter Mary of Burgundy, and also possesses a collection of marble statues. Among other buildings of interest are the ‘halles’ (market hall), with a Gothic belfry with distinctive chimes, the Palais de Justice, and the Hôtel de Ville.
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