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Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom
September 5, 2004
Before the River Reie silted up in the late fifteenth century Minnewater received over 150 ships a day. A lock house and the turreted Poertoren are all that remain from this time. The bridge across the canal next to the Poertoren – a former ammunition dump that was once part of the city’s fortifications – offers a superb panorama of the historical centre. Aside from carriage horses on a break from their tours around the town and the occasional sound of footsteps on the surrounding cobbled streets, the main source of activity is the flock of swans gliding serenely across the water, white flecks through the drooping willow trees thronging the banks.
A graceful, triple arched footbridge marks one of the two entrances to Begijnhof. Founded in the thirteenth century, the Beguines sought a purer, less materialistic form of religion. The unmarried and abandoned women who lived at the Beguinage in Bruges took vows of obedience and chastity and made their living in the local lace industry. Most of the whitewashed, red roofed houses you see today survive from the seventeenth century, though the Beguines themselves have long since gone, replaced by Benedictine nuns in 1937.
As you enter the enclosed central courtyard the views are of high poplar trees and daffodils in front of the terraced circle of small houses and the dark, 13th century church. Just to the left of the entrance, one of the houses has been turned into a museum, while the church and chapel are also open to visitors. Despite the constant parade of cameras, sound seems strangely muffled here – the perfect antidote to the noise of all those chocolate and lace shops.
From journal Magical Bruges
Ayr, Scotland, United Kingdom
November 8, 2003
Inside the city conversion of the Reie River into a network of canals allowed traders to bring their goods to the large Water Halls at the Market. Selling and storage of goods took place there. In the place of the Water Halls now stands the neo-gothic Provincial Hof. The canals needed to be kept to a constant depth of water. Minnewater an existing lake proved ideal as a reservoir for the purpose.
It is unusual for something industrialised to have romantic connotations, but such is the case with Minnewater. With its idyllic surroundings it is easy to imagine courting couples strolling by the lake. The Dutch word 'Minne' means 'love' and Minnewater becomes 'the lake of Love'. Swans on the lake add to the romance--one of the symbols of Bruges is the swan.
Ships, after they passed Damme, the medieval outer harbour of Bruges (now with two Dutch style windmills standing on its bank), entered Bruges where the Dampoort-complex sits--a former city gate. On the way to the city centre the sailors followed the canals Langerei, Potterierei (with its shipyards), Spiegelrei, and Spinolarei.
On the Spinolarei, the 'Poortersloge' with its high bell tower stands--the then meeting place for the rich and important members of the Bruges society. In a niche at the end of the wall stands a statue of a bear carrying a shield with Masonic symbols, a badge of the city.
Often concerts, festivities, and banquets took place in this building. In front of it is the 'Jan van Eyck' square, with the statue of the illustrious Flemish painter who lived and died in Bruges (+ 1444). Finally, on their way to the Market, the ships passed the great 'Crane', a medieval crane that used to unload the goods from the ships. A small replica of such a crane now stands in 'Jan van Eyck' square. People walking in two treadmills provided the lifting power.
Nowadays no commercial ships sail on the Bruges canals. The canals belong to the tourist trade. There are five families allowed to organize tourist excursions by open boats on the canals. It is doubtful if anything larger could squeeze under the bridges. Each family has four boats and these provide a relaxing way to view the city while listening to the boatman's version of events. Perhaps jokes don't come naturally to the Belgiums. Our boatman's idea of a joke is 'This brewery takes its water from the canal--its beer is only for Export.'
From journal Bruges - a reawakened medieval city
seal beach, California
January 2, 2001
From journal Bruges-Our Favorite Place!