A stroll down Breidelstraat in the southwest corner of the 'Markt', Bruges largest town square, leads to the 'Burg' square--administrative heart of the city and a showcase of European architectural styles. It was here in the mid-9th century; the Franks had built a palisade surrounded by a moat to protect it against Viking and Norman marauders. This building has long gone together with St. Donation's cathedral, which dated from the mid-10th century. Around the cobbled square now stands an array of monumental buildings spanning the centuries from the 12th to the 19th, with styles from Romanesque to post-modern.
The square's stunning gothic town hall (1376) is the oldest in Belgium. Its front facade has six gothic windows and the Coats of Arms of the cities and villages under administrative rule from Bruges. Statues on the façade are replacements for the original statues of biblical figures and counts of Flanders.
In the entrance hall, a large staircase leads to the Gothic Hall (1386-1401). The small balcony near the door allowed the town pipers and other musicians to perform from an elevated platform. This Hall witnessed the first meeting of the States General established by the Dukes of Burgundy to regulate donations to the treasury.
The vaulted oak ceiling (begun in 1385 and finished in 1402) has long pendant keystones at the junction of the arches richly decorated in tones of brown, black, maroon, and gold, surrounding painted scenes from the New Testament. This hall decorated with neo-gothic murals by the De Vriende brothers in 1905 show important events in the city's history.
Next to the town hall stands the Old Civil Registry (1534-1537) in Renaissance style--since 1883 used as the Peace Court. The sinuously curved and scrolled gables contrast with the older, linear step gables of most of the buildings in Bruges. The decorative bronze statues represent Justice, Moses and Aaron.
On its left side the former Court of Justice in neo-classicist style dates from 1722-1727. Inside is the celebrated chimney of the 'Brugse Vrije'. Built between 1528 and 1581 in wood, alabaster, and marble, it commemorates the victory of Emperor Charles V in Pavia over King François I of France. The carving cover the entire wall, joining the ceiling with carved tendrils and caskets. A statue of Charles in full armour, wearing the emblem of the Order of the Golden Fleece stands in the centre. Forty-six coats of arms and ribbons also appear on it. Part of the Old Court of Justice building now houses the Bruges Tourist Information Centre.
On the left side of the square is the Deanery (1662), the former house of the Deans of the St. Donatius church. Later it became part of the palace of the Bishop of Bruges. Its parapet is lined with urns and topped with a female personification of justice armed with sword and scales.