A November 2001 trip
to Bruges by gwelkins
Quote: Shhhhhh, don’t tell too many friends that I’ve discovered this quaint European medieval city that you only see in movies. Only this isn't a set built on Paramount’s back lot – this is for real. Enter the Old Town Gate and go back in time. Bruges – we adore you!
At the Markt, the city’s main square, Bruges remains a medieval city of stunning beauty and charm. Gaze up at the Belfry of Bruges, a landmark dominating the skyline for centuries. Turn left, Burg Square, the Gothic townhall. On the right, the Basilica of the Holy Blood,, which contains relics from the Crusades, including the famous crystal vial said to contain a drop of Christ’s blood. Walk anywhere and you’ll see historic squares lined by guild buildings with gabled rooftops and intricate brickwork.
No matter where you walk, at every turn, one’s enchanted by a city rich in architectural and artistic treasures, graced by quiet canals and waterways that reflect the quaint houses and decorated facades have given Bruges the fitting title of "The Venice of the North".
Everywhere one walks you witness a massive facelift preparing for it’s crowning as the Cultural Capitol of Europe 2002.
Visit the Lace Museum.
Among the city's most notable monuments are the Memling Museum, housed in the church of the medieval Hospital of St. John, the Groeningen Museum, and the Church of Our Lady where you’ll be stunned by the Michaelangelo sculpture of Madonna and Child. The Memling Museum, as its name suggests, contains as its primary attraction six works by the Flemish painter Hans Memling (c. 1430-1494). The most renowned of these is the Shrine of St. Ursula, a reliquary decorated by several extraordinary paintings illustrating the legend of the saint.
Shopping for handmade lace and Belgian chocolates are amongst the most popular offerings. By the way, we learned from our little lace shop owner, that the nuns went to China in the 19th century, returned with lace making and embroidery techniques and skills that they learned from the Chinese. She told us that most of the lace making now is a cottage industry with most of it coming from nearby Ghent.
Forgot your laptop -- no problem -- there are several internet cafes to catch up on your emails. Very inexpensive and a wonderful
Take a canal boat tour late in the day and catch the light changing as the sun goes down.
If you stay longer than a few days, there are several bus tours to nearby battlefields and to the towns along the English Channel.
Our room overlooked the sweet St. Anne canal. The Hotel TER REIEN has 25 rooms, all equipped with bathroom, satellite television, radio and telephone There are 12 rooms that have canal view.
Very comfortable and clean accommodations. Being 5 minutes from the heart of the square, we enjoyed a very peaceful and quiet night''s sleep.
The buffet breakfast is available in both the breakfast room and on the terrace courtyard.
We found parking easily on the side street along the canal.
A walk along the the St. Annes canal behind the hotel brings you into the old section of the city where the poor and the laborers lived in the 19th century and before. This area is gradually being renovated as many young are buying up these charming homes and buildings. You will also find some of ther oldest churches in Bruges, as well as the sweetest tea shop, said to be the oldest in Bruges.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 11, 2002
Hotel Ter Reien
Attraction | "The Church of Our Lady (and Michaelangelo)"
You never know what you'll find when you ask a local for directions. We asked the proprietor of a sweet little lace shop to send us on an interesting walk back to our hotel. She pointed us in the direction of a church, NOT the Cathedral please, just take 2 lefts after the church – "You know the church over there with the Michaelangelo?" No we didn’t know, and it became a highlight of the trip. Actually we thought the church was closed due to reconstruction and facelift of the exterior. We soon found why The Church of Our Lady is one of Bruges' top sights, whereas the Cathedral is not.
A massive brick structure that was cloaked in scaffolding when we arrived, the Church of Our Lady is worth a visit for its interior and not its exterior (the spire is 122 meters high - 400 feet: it is the second tallest brick structure in the world - just 1 meter below the spire of Antwerp Cathedral!). The Church, built between the 1200's and the 1400's, contains an unexpected treasure -- Michelangelo's Madonna and Child and the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Duke Charles the Bold. The Michelangelo sculpture (1506) is believed to be the only one to have left Italy within Michelangelo's lifetime. A wealthy business man and his family bought it from the sculptor while visiting Italy. Michaelangelo had been commissioned by the Sienna Cathedral in Sienna to do this sculpture. They must have made it worth his while to part with such a commission.
When you approach the right side altar, one has in mind a larger scale, much like the Pieta I saw at the Metropolitam Museum of Art in New York years ago. The precious Madonna and Child, from the hand of the master, is about three feet high. Carved of white marble, one is moved by the sweetness and power of the subject. Lit only by candlelight, it gave a glow and aura that added to its mystery and beauty.
The monumental tombs of Mary of Burgundy (who died in 1482) and her father Charles the Bold (who died in 1477) were constructed fifty years apart - Mary's in 1502, and Charles' in 1563. The most interesting features of the Church are the open tombs both under the Burgundian monuments themselves and in a side chapel (south side): these are painted inside, and mostly date from the 1200's and 1300's. They were only rediscovered in 1979. Uniquely, one can see Mary of Burgundy's coffin (and a tiny box placed on top of it containing the heart of her son), beneath her monument.
Church of our Lady
Attraction | "The MARKT and the BURG"
Burg was the site of the fortress of the early Counts of Flanders. It became the seat of town government - as witnessed most spectacularly in the Stadhuis, or Town Hall. Built between 1376 and 1420, the Stadhuis has an amazing decorated Gothic ceiling.
The Belfry (13th and 15th century) at the old city center is widely considered Belgium's finest, with a carillon that has rung out the quarter hour for nearly seven and a half centuries. Undoubtedly the most enjoyable way to visit Bruges is to amble along its cobbled streets, glide by boat along its tranquil canals and discover a city that time has forgotten.
To the left of the Stadhuis when viewed from the square, an archway spans the narrow path leading to the canal behind; in the far left corner of the square is the entrance to the 'Liberty of Bruges', a set of buildings owned by the authorities who controlled the area outside the city itself ('liberty' meaning free lands). The Aldermen's Room inside this building has a monumental Renaissance chimneypiece from the 1530's. A bizarre but spectacular sight, it is worth seeing for its amazing Flemish carving: it shows Emperor Charles V, flanked on each side by his grandparents - Ferdinand & Isabella on the right, Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria on the left (Charles' parents are restricted to small portrait medallions behind the figure of Charles himself!).
The Markt (Market Square)
Bruges, Belgium 8000
Today's Bruges has a population of about 45.000 people (the old center) or 120.000 people (center together with the suburbs). These numbers clearly show that Bruges is not a tiny miniature city. It ranks, even today, among the important cities of Belgium. It is also the capital of the Belgian province of West-Flanders.
A lot of people take day-trips from Brussels to Bruges, but there is too much to see here to fill only 1 day. The best way to visit Bruges is to spend at least one night in one of the many beautiful and cozy hotels. Later in the evening, when all the tourists have gone, Bruges finds back its charm and quiet of old times. When one is lucky with the weather, a stroll through the tiny medieval streets can be an enchanting experience. Bruges is always beautiful, in the summertime as well as in the wintertime. Lucky visitors will never forget the city after they have seen it on a snowy December or January day.
Bruges is unique, in the sense that here the town authorities have done the utmost to preserve the medieval-looking image of the city. Of course, not every stone in Bruges has come to us straight from the Middle Ages. The 19th century neo-gothic style is more present than one should think. Because of these 19th century renovations, some critics have put Bruges down as a 'fake' medieval city. Nevertheless, the combination of old, not so old and new fascinates everyone who first sets foot in Bruges.
Historical perspective...Bruges experienced the revolution period from 1789 to 1830 in a passive way. The first industrial revolution hardly disturbed the city. Around 1850 Bruges was the poorest city in the country. The middle classes spoke French, the illiterate people only knew their local dialect. French was decreed to be the official language for public life in 1885. But Guido Gezelle (1830-1899), the most important Dutch speaking poet of the nineteenth century, was a native of Bruges. In European literature Bruges was made famous by the French language novel "Bruges la Morte" by Georges Rodenbach (1892). The book describes Bruges as a sleeping, dead, but mysterious city.
When "Bruges la Morte" appeared, Bruges had just begun some ambitious new projects. The new sea-port, inaugurated in 1907 in Zeebrugge, did not achieve full prosperity until the last quarter of the twentieth century. Since the end of the nineteenth century Bruges was also known throughout Europe as a city of art and a tourist center. The Bruges monuments, museums and particularly the unspoilt historic cityscape attract millions of visitors every year. The port of Zeebrugge and the cultural/historic patrimony of Bruges give the city a European and international dimension.
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