Bruges, the Venice of the North

Brugge Travel Blog

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Before coming back to Italy, because we were so close we went to Bruges, the historic capital of West Flanders, Flanders being one of the three regions of Belgium.
Bruges is a really romantic city.
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'.
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. 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. 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. And take a tour on a boat to visit the city is a must begfore leaving it.
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photo by: Chokk