August 5, 2009

Bruges ‘The Venice of the North’

Filed under: lifestyle — wepemac @ 1:13 pm

Because of its canals Bruges is often called ‘The Venice of the North’. The water situation in both cities was, however, very different. Venice was founded on islands in a lagoon of the Adriatic sea. Bruges lies deeper inland ; at least now, because in the five centuries B.C the Flemish coastline must have been flooded several times by the North Sea. When the waters retreated they left behind different sea-arms via which ships could reach the area where now Bruges is situated. Bruges was probably already visited by the Vikings. The Flemish name ‘Brugge’ is probably derived from the Latin word ‘Rogia’ (which was the Latin name of the ‘Reie’ the river which flowed through Bruges), and the Scandinavian word ‘Bryggia’, which meant ‘mooring place’.

Bruges (Dutch: Brugge) 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 egg-shaped and about 430 hectares in size. The area of the whole city amounts to more than 13,840 hectares, including 193.7 hectares off the coast, at Zeebrugge (“Seabruges” in literal translation). The city’s total population is 117,073 (1 January 2008),[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] Bruges is also home to the College of Europe.

In the Middle-Ages, the waterways to Bruges had to be regularly adapted and enlarged to allow large trade ships to reach the city. Already in the 12th century the cargo was mostly brought to the outports of Damme and Sluis, two small medieval cities that still exist today, and are certainly worth a visit. All through the golden era of Bruges the rivers and canals were constantly dredged. Inside the city the ‘Reie’ river had been turned into a network of canals that enabled the traders to bring their products to the large Water Halls at the Market. Inside the Water Halls the goods were stored or sold directly. The Water Halls do not exist anymore now. In their place is now the neo-gothic Provincial Court at the Market.

(View alongside the canal from Bruges to Damme, the medieval outport)

After they had passed Damme, the ships entered Bruges on the site where now the Dampoort-complex is situated. The ‘Dampoort’ was one of the city gates that allowed entrance to the city. On the way to the center the sailors followed the canals which are now called ‘Langerei’, ‘Potterierei’ (where the shipyards were located), ‘Spiegelrei’, and “Spinolarei’. From the Spinolarei one can see the ‘Poortersloge’ which was the meeting place for the richer and more important members of the Bruges society. Very often concerts, festivities and banquets were organized in this building. In front of it is the ‘Jan van Eyck’ square with the statue of the greatest Flemish painter of all times who lived and died in Bruges (+ 1444). Finally, on their way to the Market, the ships passed the great ‘Crane’, a medieval crane that was used to unload the goods from the ships.

Nowadays no commercial ships sail on the Bruges ‘reien’ (=canals) anymore. The canals are now exclusively used for tourist boats. There are five families that are allowed to organize tourist excursions by open boats on the canals. Each family has 4 boats.


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