The last day of our trip had come and we decided to spend it in the beautiful city of Bruges. Often said to be one of the prettiest towns in Europe, this canal based city is filled with interesting history and charming architecture. Bruges is a very popular place to visit and we were happy to join the crowd as we wandered through admiring it all.
The earliest mention of this place is somewhere between 840-875AD. Scholars have found that it was first named either ‘Bruggas’, ‘Brvggas’, or ‘Brvccia’ depending on where you were from. The name would change many more times over the course of centuries until finally it became Bruges. The name come from an old Dutch word meaning ‘bridge’.
Our first point of interest was the Poertoren en Minnewaterbrug, or the Gunpowder Tower. This defensive tower was built in 1397 and it was one of two that would guard the entrance into the city. Later it was used to store gunpowder which gave it its name.
We approached the small area of the city known as the Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde and saw the church sitting by the water’s edge. This complex was first created in 1240 when a group of religious women who were not part of the nunnery orders established a community to live and serve from.
On entering the complex we saw the beautiful row of white houses surrounding a courtyard where the women lived. Often these women were too poor to marry so they would join this community. It became an independent parish a few years later and given the name Princely Beguinage by Philip the Fair in 1299. It is the last remaining Beguinage in Belgium and since 1927 has served as a convent.
We saw the medieval hospital/church. In medieval times a hospital was not where you came to get better but more a comfortable place to meet the end of your life. Because of the poor conditions of the hospital disease was rampant. But it offered a bed and food and some level of care before the end. Pregnant women were not allowed in the hospital because of the threat it posed to the woman and the baby.
We walked through the charming streets looking at the shops while avoiding the horse drawn carriages taking visitors on a scenic ride. Many shops were filled with beautiful hand made lace items so typical of this area. The lace was so delicate and intricate and made with such careful attention.
But you can’t come to such a famous canal city and not take a boat ride. So we bought our tickets which were $12/adult and $8/child. The boat driver put us right up front next to him and as we started down the canal he began to point out the different places along the canal. He also made sure to point out the baby swans to our daughter which she loved.
The canals of Bruges with the bridges over the water and the medieval architecture along the sides are so beautiful. It is no wonder why so many people come here wanting to be swept up into the beauty and the history of this once thriving medieval commercial powerhouse city.
The entire historic area of Bruges became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their preservation of historical and cultural fabric that makes up this city. You can see the influence of the time periods throughout the city, but they have worked to maintain the historic while still allowing the growth and change of later years and it all comes together so beautifully.
After our boat tour, we visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood. In 1134 the church was built by Thierry of Alsace next to the house of the count. A few years later he went to the Holy Land during the second crusades and brought back with him a relic of the blood of Christ. The chapel was renamed Chapel of the Holy Blood upon his return with the relic.
Dark and winding stairs take you up to the second story chapel where you are then met with bright colors everywhere from the alter to the windows. This chapel has undergone numerous renovations until it became a brilliant display of Gothic Revival with the addition of the colorful windows showing the sovereigns of the time that supported the chapel.
Also close to the town center is that of the Church of Our Lady with its line of trees that have had the branches woven into horizontal lines. THis church dates back to the 14th century and was constructed as a monument to the wealth, power, and sophistication of the city and its Catholic residents. It certainly gives the feeling of wealth and grandeur and the bell tower is a defining part of the skyline of the city.
Our day in Bruges ended in the town center with the incredible Gothic architecture surrounding us. The Town Hall with the Belfry of Bruges rising above the city is a prominent symbol of the city. And the city offices housed in the other striking buildings really give a sense of the city’s history of influence throughout the middle ages. What makes this city so unique is that incredible mix of architecture, history, commerce, and elegance.
I was glad that our last day of this trip brought us to the beautiful city of Bruges. Visiting Bruges has long been on my list of places I wanted to see and it was everything I wanted it to be and more. Far more than just lovely canals and bridges, Bruges offered such an interesting look into history and what made this city become the powerful influence that it was. What an incredible way to end such an incredible trip.
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Thank you for coming along on this visit to the beautiful city of Bruges. May a place leave you breathless with wonder and awe.