Brugge has seen many changes during its time, making it one of the most interesting towns to visit in Belgium. In the past millenia, Brugge has seen itself climb up to become the major european economic and political powerhouse, only to fall fowl by war and environmental factors in the last two centuries. Just an hour away from Brussels from Gare du Midi, the town of Brugge is full of interesting things to see and do, including the Grand Market, the Belfry, the town hall and canals that can be toured by boat. This is another diary entry of our trip to Brugge from Brussels
1. Markt (Market Square)
2. The Burg and the Town hall
3. The Belfry and the Halles
4. Walk along the Dijver
4. Canal Boat Tour
5. Minnewater and the park
After struggling to read the timetables and the time boards at the station we finally boarded the train to Brugge from the Gare du Midi station early in the morning. Already, the trains and platforms were beginning to fill with tourists and locals alike. Outside the carriage window, we watched in a short space of time, the scenery changing from the usual suburban dwellings of houses and apartments and factories and storage facilities to rolling fields, farmland and countryside.
It was not until an hour later when we arrived at the Brugge railway station. There was an envelope of mist and fog surrounding the area, even though it was late in the morning, thus adding an air of mystery to the area. Using the map and the tourists, we walked through the bus station to the bridge which led into the the cobble-stoned street of Oostmeers. It would then be a straight walk through gothic-styled apartments and shops up to Steenstraat. As we walked, we could already see the tall steeple of one in many cathedrals rising towards the sky.
After turning right and following the tourists, we eventually arrived at the The Market square, also known as the Markt by the locals. The Markt is completely dominated by the 83 meter high Belfry tower and the cloth hall, one of the symbols of the city. The original hall and tower dates back to 1240 but in 1280 the tower had to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire. The Belfry tower served the purpose of keeping important documents of the city and as a watchtower while the cloth hall below produced the finest Flemish cloth and was sold all over the world. Inside the tower were bells which each had a distinct sound and function (e.g.: bells for danger, bells for important announcements and as well as bells to indicate time). Now, the Belfry and its cloth hall is now a reflection of the great past Brugge had originally enjoyed, perhaps wondering what it could have been had it not suffered from the economical collapse as a result of the draining of the main river feeding into the Bruge.
On the right of the Belfry stood the Provincial Government Palace. Originally the Provincial Court, the building dated back to when the group of houses built to replace the medieval water halls, were bought by the Provincial government in 1850 and converted it to seat the provincial institutions. However, the building was mostly destroyed by fire and in the late 19th century the houses were rebuilt with a eye to re-creating the neo-gothic appearance of the previous two buildings. The result of the reconstruction is now the house of the Governor of the Province of West-Flanders on the left (the palace) and the red brick structure on the right is the Post office.
Finally, in the middle of square stood a statue commemorating the two leaders Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck in the Battle of the Spurs. The Battle of the Spurs took place on the 11th July 1302 when the Flemish, led by de Coninck, fought against the French occupation of the french king. However, there was also a dual purpose in that the monument was used as a tool to drive recognition for Flemish culture at a time when Belgium was dominated heavily by French influences in the 19th century. At the end of it all, it is interesting to see how such a statue was able to inspire the Flemish spirit in overcoming French arrogance, thus resulting in different cultures and languages co-existing harmoniously in Belgium.
The Burg, however, was a disappointment. I remember that many of the buildings, including the town hall were being renovated and had metal frames built around the structure. As a result, we did not really notice it at all until we bought the brochure guide from the information centre. I guess something that is dated around the 14th century needs a bit of tender loving care! Anyway, the Town hall or Halles is the seat of power for Brugge and had always been during its heyday as a major economic power.
We had a light lunch at a coffee shop near the Dijver, which is just near one of the canals and is south-east of the Belfry. Here, various market stands lining the bank were selling items such as sketches and drawings to copperware and lace. On the other side was the wharf where tourists paid a small fee and waited in long queues to board the boats that toured the canals. In the canals, boats full of tourists listening to their guides sailed past.
The canal tour starts and ends in Djiver. From here, the boat takes the passengers through the canals
while the tour guide points out some well known sites such as the Minnewater, the Belfry and Halles. He also pointed us to sites that a usual tourist would not take any notice of - "There is a small statue of our lady that was built in ...". Amazingly, the guide was very fluent in his english in addition to his Dutch and French. As the tour went on, I noticed that the canals shared many similarities with Venice.
As the afternoon passed, the mist had become denser, casting a fairly eerie mood across the surrounds. Before heading home, we decided to walk to Minnewater or the "Lake of Love".
I was not sure of the origins of its name. But one explanation could be 'water van het gemeen', which could be translated as the 'common water'. The lake was used as a water reservoir for the town and to keep the water of the canals at a constant level. Next to the lake is the Minnewater park, where sometimes in the summertime (rock) concerts are organized.
One of the symbols of Bruges is the swan. There are always plenty of them on the 'Minnewater'. Legend has it that Maximilian of Austria punished Brugge for executing his town administrator, Pieter Lanchals, by forcing the population to keep swans on their lakes and canals till eternity. It appears to be a strange punishment, but apparently the Lanchals coat of arms featured a white swan, so perhaps it was a ploy to keep the citizens reminded of Peiter.
Once again it was time to leave and return back to our own lives, so we took the short walk back to the station via Prof. Dr. L Sebrechsstr. Although we were nearing the end of our holiday, leaving this place was not so bad considering that we had gained a lot of knowledge about the history, culture and people of Brugge.