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Atomium building in Brussels

Atomium Belgium

The Atomium is situated in Heysel, the northern downtown of Brussels. The design is based on a crystallized molecule of iron magnified 150 milliard times.

Welcome to Brugge

Brugge, Bruges in English, is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country.

The historic city centre is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. It is oval-shaped and about 430 hectares in size. The area of the whole city amounts to more than 13,840 hectares, including 1,075 hectares off the coast, at Zeebrugge.

The city's total population is 117,073 (1 January 2008), of which around 20,000 live in the historic centre. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 616 km² and has a total of 255,844 inhabitants as of 1 January 2008.

Along with a few other canal-based northern cities, such as Amsterdam, it is sometimes referred to as "The Venice of the North". Bruges has a significant economic importance thanks to its port. At one time, it was the "chief commercial city" of the world.

On the left the Belfry of Bruges, or Belfort. It is a medieval bell tower in the historical city centre. The belfry was built around 1240 and it formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives. The tower served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger.

Belfry Bruges

History

Origins

The first fortifications were built after Julius Caesar's conquest of the Menapii in the first century BC, to protect the coastal area against pirates.

Kruisport Bruges

The Franks took over the whole region from the Gallo-Romans around the 4th century and administered it as the Pagus Flandrensis. The Viking incursions of the ninth century prompted Baldwin I, Count of Flanders to reinforce the Roman fortifications; trade soon resumed with England and Scandinavia. It is at around this time that coins appeared for the first time bearing the name Bryggia. This name may stem from the Old Norse Bryggja, meaning "landing stage" or "port", and may have the same origin as Norway’s Bryggen, a World Heritage site in the city of Bergen, which may also share the same etymology.

On the left the Kruisport.

Golden Age

Bruges got its city charter on July 27, 1128 and new walls and canals were built. Since about 1050, gradual silting had caused the city start losing its direct access to the sea but a storm in 1134 re-established this access through the creation of a natural channel at the Zwin. The new sea arm stretched all the way to Damme, a city that became the commercial outpost for Bruges.

With the reawakening of town life in the twelfth century, a wool market, a weaving industry and the textile market all profited from the shelter of city walls, where surpluses could be safely accumulated under the patronage of the counts of Flanders. Bruges was already included in the circuit of the Flemish cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century. The city's entrepreneurs reached out to make economic colonies of England and Scotland's wool-producing districts.

On the right map of Bruges from 1562 by Marcus Gerards. The channels around the city walls provided as for beter defence as for the transport of goods to the inner channels of Bruges.

Map of Bruges
Gruuthuse Paleis

English contacts brought Normandy grain and Gascon wines. Hanseatic ships filled the harbor, which had to be expanded beyond Damme to Sluys to accommodate the new cog-ships. In 1277, the merchant fleet from Genoa appeared in the port of Bruges what made Bruges the main link to the trade of the Mediterranean. This development opened not only the trade in spices from the Levant, but also advanced commercial and financial techniques and a flood of capital that soon took over the local banking of Bruges.

On the left the Loedewijk Gruuthuse paleis built in 15th century, close to the end of the Golden Age of Bruges.

The Bourse opened in 1309 (most likely the first stock exchange in the world) and developed into the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries in the 14th century. By the time Venetian when galleys first appeared in 1314, they were already latecomers.

Such wealth gave rise to social upheavals, which were for the most part harshly contained. In 1302, the Bruges Matins took place (the nocturnal massacre of the French garrison in Bruges by the members of the local Flemish militia on 18 May 1302).

On the right the first Bourse of the world, the house of Jacob van der Buerse where 14th century businessman’s of Bruges were meeting every evening to fix rates and other financial businesses.     

Huis van Jacob van der Buerse

After Matins the Bruges population joined forces with the Count of Flanders against the French, culminating in the victory at the Battle of the Golden Spurs, fought near Kortrijk on July 11. The statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, the leaders of the uprising, can still be seen on the Big Market square.

Grote Markt Bruges

At the end of the 14th century, Bruges became one of the Four Members, along with Franc of Bruges, Ghent and Ypres. Together they formed a parliament, however they frequently quarreled amongst themselves.

Internal Channel

In the 15th century, Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, set up court in Bruges, as well as Brussels and Lille, attracting a number of artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe. The weavers and spinners of Bruges were thought to be the best in the world, and the population of Bruges grew to 200,000 inhabitants at this time.

The new Flemish-school developed in oil-painting techniques and gained world renown. The first book in English ever printed was published in Bruges by William Caxton. This is also the time when Edward IV and Richard III of England spent time in exile here.

On the left, an internal channel of Bruges.

16th Century and onwards

Starting around 1500, the Zwin channel providing for the city its prosperity started again silting. The city soon fell behind Antwerp which became the economic flagship of the Low Countries during the 16th century.

During the 17th century, the lace industry took off, and various efforts were made to bring back the glorious past. During the 1650s, the city was the base for Charles II of England and his court in exile. The maritime infrastructure was modernized, and new connections with the sea were built, but without much success. At this time, the Amsterdam was becoming the new economic flagship of the Low Countries by replacing Antwerp and there was no interest in Bruges. The city became impoverished and as Antwerp, gradually disappeared from the picture, with its population dwindling from 200,000 to 50,000 by the end of the 1800s.

On the right, an internal channel of Bruges.

Internal Channel Bruges
Notre Dame Bruges

The novelist George Rodenbach even made the sleepy city into a character in his novel Bruges-la-Morte, which was adapted into Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera, The Dead City. In the last half of the 19th century, Bruges was discovered once again and became one of the world's tourist destinations attracting wealthy British and French tourists.

In the second half of the 20th century the city has started to reclaim some of its past glory. The port of Zeebrugge that was built in 1907 was used by Germans for their U-boats in World War I. Then, greatly expanded in the 1970s and early 1980s it became one of Europe's most important and modern ports able to handle the biggest ships.

On the left, the church of Our Lovely Lady, with its 122-metre brick steeple, dominates the skyline of the city. It is quite literally the ‘high spot’ of the stonemason’s art in medieval Bruges. The church also plays host to a rich collection of art treasures, of which the crowning glory is definitely the beautiful ‘Madonna and Child’ by Michelangelo. The choir aisle is also a treasure trove of exceptional pieces: paintings and exquisite woodcarving, the 16th-century ceremonial tombs of Maria of Burgundy and Charles the Bold, as well as other painted tombs from the 13th and 14th centuries.

International tourism has boomed, and new efforts have resulted in Bruges being designated 'European Capital of Culture' in 2002.

Channels Panorama in Bruges