Bruges is almost unreal in its historic beauty. This Belgian medieval city was rebuilt after the WWII to attract tourists and to remind everyone of the great historic turning points….
The fortunes of Bruges rose and fell with the strength of the Zwin, the river on which the city is built. Although there is evidence that the area was inhabited as far back as Neolithic times, the beginning of Bruges’ history, as a pre-eminent commercial and cultural center, is marked by the great Dunkerque Floods of the twelfth century. The wash of the floodwaters made the Zwin into an ideal trade river, and Bruges soon prospered. Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the city became one of the richest in the world, its trade supplemented by fine cloth manufacturers and excellent banking services.
Its population soared, its port welcomed ships from all over the world, its artisans produced tapestries, sculpture, paintings and lace of unparalleled splendor, and its wealthy citizens patronized the finest artists of the age. By the middle of the 16th century, all this had changed. The Zwin had begun to silt up, discouraging the passage of commercial shipping. Trade routes shifted and the cloth industry declined. After suffering a series of sieges and attacks over the next few centuries, Bruges had by the 18th century become a ghost of its former self. At its city center, Bruges remains a medieval city of stunning beauty and charm. It is rich in architectural and artistic treasures, graced by quiet canals and waterways and a favorite to visitors.
The Belfry (13th and 15th century) at the old city center is widely considered Belgium’s finest, with a carillon that has rung every 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. 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.
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. Memling set the legend in the Europe of his own time and one of the most fascinating aspects of the panels is their painstakingly accurate portrayal of his contemporary world. As of December 2000 the whole historic centre of the Belgian city of Bruges has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
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