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Bruges ( ) is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flandersmarker in the Flemish Regionmarker of Belgiummarker. It is located in the northwest of the country.

The historic city centre is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCOmarker. 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 Zeebruggemarker ("Seabruges" in literal translation). The city's total population is 117,073 (1 January 2008), 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.

Along with a few other canal-based northern cities, such as Amsterdammarker, 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.Bruges is also home to the College of Europe.



Very few traces of human activity date from the Pre-Roman Gaul era. The first fortifications were built after Julius Caesar's conquest of the Menapii in the first century BC, to protect the coastal area against pirates. The Franks took over the whole region from the Gallo-Romans around the 4th century and administered it as the Pagus Flandrensis. The Viking incursions of the ninth century prompted Baldwin I, Count of Flanders to reinforce the Roman fortifications; trade soon resumed with Englandmarker and Scandinavia. It is at around this time that coins appeared for the first time bearing the name Bryggia. This name may stem from the Old Norse , meaning "landing stage" or "port", and may have the same origin as Norway’s Bryggenmarker.

Golden Age (12th to 15th century)

An old street in Bruges, with the Church of Our Lady tower in the background.
Bruges got its city charter on July 27, 1128 and built itself new walls and canals. Since about 1050, gradual silting had caused the city to lose its direct access to the sea. A storm in 1134, however, re-established this access, through the creation of a natural channel at the Zwinmarker. The new sea arm stretched all the way to Dammemarker, a city that became the commercial outpost for Bruges.

With the reawakening of town life in the twelfth century, a wool market, a woollens weaving industry, and the market for cloth all profited from the shelter of city walls, where surpluses could be safely accumulated under the patronage of the counts of Flanders. Bruges was already included in the circuit of the Flemish cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century. The city's entrepreneurs reached out to make economic colonies of England and Scotland's wool-producing districts. English contacts brought Normandy grain and Gascon wines. Hanseatic ships filled the harbor, which had to be expanded beyond Dammemarker to Sluysmarker to accommodate the new cog-ships. In 1277, the first merchant fleet from Genoamarker appeared in the port of Bruges, first of the merchant colony that made Bruges the main link to the trade of the Mediterranean. This development opened not only the trade in spices from the Levant, but also advanced commercial and financial techniques and a flood of capital that soon took over the banking of Bruges. The Bourse opened in 1309 and developed into the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries in the 14th century. By the time Venetian galleys first appeared, in 1314, they were latecomers.

Such wealth gave rise to social upheavals, which were for the most part harshly contained. In 1302, however, after the Bruges Matins (the nocturnal massacre of the French garrison in Bruges by the members of the local Flemish militia on 18 May 1302), the population joined forces with the Count of Flanders against the French, culminating in the victory at the Battle of the Golden Spurs, fought near Kortrijkmarker on July 11. The statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, the leaders of the uprising, can still be seen on the Big Market square.

In the 15th century, Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, set up court in Bruges, as well as Brusselsmarker and Lillemarker, attracting a number of artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe. The weavers and spinners of Bruges were thought to be the best in the world, and the population of Bruges grew to 200,000 inhabitants at this time.

The new Flemish-school, oil-painting techniques gained world renown. The first book in English ever printed was published in Bruges by William Caxton. This is also the time when Edward IV and Richard III of England spent time in exile here.

16th century onwards

Starting around 1500, the Zwin channel, which had given the city its prosperity, also started silting. The city soon fell behind Antwerpmarker as the economic flagship of the Low Countries. During the 17th century, the lace industry took off, and various efforts to bring back the glorious past were made. During the 1650s, the city was the base for Charles II of England and his court in exile. The maritime infrastructure was modernized, and new connections with the sea were built, but without much success. Bruges became impoverished and gradually disappeared from the picture, with its population dwindling from 200,000 to 50,000 by the end of the 1800s.

The symbolist novelist George Rodenbach even made the sleepy city into a character in his novel Bruges-la-Morte, meaning "Bruges-the-dead", which was adapted into Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera, Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). In the last half of the 19th century, Bruges became one of the world's first tourist destinations attracting wealthy British and French tourists. Only in the second half of the 20th century has the city started to reclaim some of its past glory. The port of Zeebruggemarker was built in 1907. The Germans used it for their U-boats in World War I. It was greatly expanded in the 1970s and early 1980s and has become one of Europe's most important and modern ports. International tourism has boomed, and new efforts have resulted in Bruges being designated 'European Capital of Culture' in 2002.


Satellite picture of Bruges.
Municipality of Bruges.
The municipality comprises:


Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact. The historic centre of Bruges has been a UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site since 2000.

Many of its medieval buildings are notable, including the Church of Our Ladymarker, whose brick spire reaches 122,3m, making it one of the world's highest brick towers/buildings. The sculpture Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be Michelangelo's only sculpture to have left Italy within his lifetime.

Bruges' most famous landmark is its 13th-century belfrymarker, housing a municipal carillon comprising 48 bells. The city still employs a full-time carillonneur, who gives free concerts on a regular basis.

Other famous buildings in Bruges include:

Bruges also has a very fine collection of medieval and early modern art, including the world-famous collection of Flemish Primitives. Various masters, such as Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck, lived and worked in Bruges. In Sint-Michiels is the amusement park Boudewijn Seaparkmarker, which features a dolphinarium.

File:Church Of Our Lady Bruges.jpg|The Church of Our Lady.File:OLVBrugge.jpg|The Dijver canal and the tower of the Church of Our Lady.File:Brugge Markt1.jpg|The Provinciaal Hof.File:Brugge - Kruispoort 2.jpg|The Kruispoort.File:Brugge Dweerstraat.jpg|The Dweersstraat.File:Brugge beguinage.JPG|The Beguinage.File:Brugge-Canal.jpg|The Groenerei (canal).File:Brugge-CanalRozenhoedkaai.JPG|View from the Rozenhoedkaai.File:Bruges canal corner.jpg |An aerial view over one of Bruges' canals.File:BridgeBruges.jpg|Bridge at Bruges, (ca. 1919)
by Louis Dewis.
File:Roofs of Bruges 01.jpg|Roofs of old houses in the city centre.File:Bruges_De_Burg.JPG|The Burg square with the City Hall.

Culture and art

Theatres and concert halls

  • Aquariustheater
  • Biekorf
  • Concertgebouw ("Concert Building")
  • De Dijk
  • De Werf
  • Het Entrepot
  • Joseph Ryelandtzaal
  • Magdalenazaal
  • Sirkeltheater
  • Stadsschouwburg
  • Studio Hall
  • The English Theatre of Bruges


  • Cinema Lumière (alternative movies)
  • Cinema Liberty
  • Kinepolis Bruges



Municipal museums
  • Artistic works from the 15th to 21st century:
  • Groeningemuseummarker
  • Arents House (contains a Frank Brangwyn museum and a museum for ever-changing exhibitions of expressive art)
  • Forum+ (part of the Concertgebouw; has exhibitions of contemporary art)
t Zand square with the Concertgebouw.
The Belfry - situated on the south side of the Grote Markt.
City Hall.
Saint Salvator's Cathedral.
  • ;Music festivals:
    • Airbag (accordion festival)
    • Ars Musica (contemporary music)
    • AssebRock
    • Bruges Metal Fest
    • Brugge Tripel Dagen
    • Brugges Festival (world music)
    • Burg Rock
    • Cactusfestival
    • Comma Rocks Festival
    • Dagen van de Bruggeling
    • Dudstock (last edition 2007, discontinued)
    • Hafabrugge (orchestra festival)
    • Internationale Fedekam Taptoe
    • Jazz Brugge (jazz festival)
    • Koorfestival (choir festival)
    • Festival van Vlaanderen - MAfestival (old music)
    • Music in Mind (atmospheric (rock) music)
    • On the Rocks
    • Red Rock Rally
    • September Jazz (jazz festival)
    • Sint-Gillis Blues- en Folkfestival
    • Sun'up Festival
    • Thoprock
    • Toekanfestival
    • Vijverpop
    • Vleugelrock
    • Walvisfestival
  • ;Cultural or food festivals:
    • Aristidefeesten
    • BAB-bierfestival (beer festival)
    • Brugse Kantdagen ("Bruges' Lace Days")
    • Chapter 2 (juggling convention)
    • Choco-Laté (chocolate festival)
    • Cinema Novo (film festival)
    • Cirque Plus (circus festival)
    • European Youth Film Festival of Flanders
    • Ice Magic (snow and ice sculpture festival)
    • Jonge Snaken Festival
    • Midwinterfeest
    • NAFT (theatre festival)
    • Razor Reel Fantastic Film Festival
    • Reiefeest (festival on the canals)
    • Uitgepakt! (gay culture festival)

  • ;Musical cultural festivals:
    • Come On!
    • Coupurefeesten
    • December Dance (dance festival)
    • Feest In't Park
    • FEST
    • Klinkers
    • Polé Polé Beach (in Zeebrugge)
    • Sint-Michielse Feeste
    • Summer End Festival
    • Vama Veche festival
  • The Bruggemuseum ("Bruges Museum") (general name for 11 different historical museums in the city):
  • Gruuthusemuseum
  • Welcome Church of Our Ladymarker
  • Archaeological Museum
  • Gentpoort
  • Belfrymarker
  • City Hall
  • Liberty of Bruges
  • Museum of Folklore
  • Guido Gezelle Museum
  • Koelewei (Cool Meadow) Mill
  • Sint-Janshuis (St. John’s House) Mill
  • Hospitalmuseums:
  • Old St John’s Hospital (Hans Memling)
  • Our Lady of the Potteries

Non-municipal museums
  • Beguine's House
  • Brewery museum
  • Hof Bladelin
  • Basilica of the Holy Blood
  • Choco-Story (chocolate museum)
  • Lumina Domestica (lamp museum)
  • Museum-Gallery Xpo: Salvador Dalí
  • Diamond Museum
  • English Convent
  • Frietmuseum (museum dedicated to Belgian Fries)
  • Jerusalem Church
  • Lace centre
  • St. George’s Archers Guild
  • Saint Salvator's Cathedralmarker
  • St. Sebastian’s Archers’ Guild
  • St. Trudo Abbey
  • Public Observatory Beisbroek
  • Ter Doest Abbey (in Lissewege)



Bruges has motorway connections to all directions:

Driving within the 'egg', the historical centre enclosed by the main circle of canals in Bruges, is discouraged by traffic management schemes, including a network of one way streets. The system encourages the use of set routes leading to central car parks and direct exit routes. The car parks are convenient for the central commercial and tourist areas; they are inexpensive.


Bruges' main railway stationmarker is the focus of lines to the Belgian coast. It also provides at least hourly trains to all other major cities in Belgium, as well as to Lillemarker, France. Further there are several regional and local trains.

The main station is also a stop for the Thalys train ParismarkerBrusselsmarkerOstendmarker.

Bus links to the centre are frequent, though the railway station is just a 10 minute walk from the main shopping streets and a 20 minute walk from the Market Square.

Plans for a north–south light rail connection through Bruges, from Zeebrugge to Lichterveldemarker, and a light rail connection between Bruges and Ostend are under construction.


The national Brussels Airportmarker, one hour away by train or car, offers the best connectivity. The nearest airport is the Ostend-Bruges International Airportmarker in Ostend (around 25 km from the city centre of Bruges), but it offers limited passenger transport and connections.
t Zand bus station.

Public city transport

Bruges has an extensive web of bus lines, operated by De Lijn, providing access to the city centre and the suburbs (city lines, ) and to many towns and villages in the region around the city (regional lines, ).

In support of the municipal traffic management (see "Road" above), free public transport is available for those who park their cars in the main railway station car park.


Although a few streets are restricted, no part of Bruges is car free.

Cars are required to yield to pedestrians and cyclists. Plans have long been under way to ban cars altogether from the historic center of Bruges or to restrict traffic much more than it currently is, but these plans have yet to come to fruition. In 2005, signs were changed for the convenience of cyclists, allowing two-way cycle traffic on more streets, however car traffic has not decreased. Recent cycle fatalities have increased pressure to close bridges and further calm inner Bruges, but laws have not yet passed. Due to heavily populated suburbs, bus traffic is high on the narrow streets. This makes cycling even trickier.

Nevertheless, in common with many cities in the region, there are thousands of cyclists in the city of Bruges.

The Elly Mærsk, here at Zeebrugge port, currently one of the world's largest container vessels.


The port of Bruges is Zeebrugge. It's the most modern and second biggest port of Belgium and one of the most important in Europe.


Jan Breydel Stadium.


The KHBO campus in Sint-Michiels.
Bruges is an important centre for education in West Flanders. Next to the several common primary and secondary schools, there are a few colleges, like the KHBO (Katholieke Hogeschool Brugge-Oostende) or the HOWEST (Hogeschool West-Vlaanderen). Furthermore, the city is home to the College of Europe, a prestigious institution of postgraduate studies in European Economics, Law and Politics.

Town twinning policy

On principle, Bruges has to date never entered into close collaboration with twin cities. Without denying the usefulness of this schemes for towns with fewer international contacts, the main reason is that Bruges would find it difficult to choose between cities and thinks that it has enough work already with its many international contacts. Also, it was thought in Bruges that twinning was too often an occasion for city authorities and representatives to travel on public expense.

This principle resulted, in the 1950s, in Bruges refusing a jumelage with Nicemarker and other towns, signed by a Belgian ambassador without previous consultation. In the 1970s, a Belgian consul in Oldenburgmarker made the mayor of Bruges sign a declaration of friendship which he tried to present, in vain, as a jumelage.

The twinning between some of the former communes, merged with Bruges in 1971, were discontinued.

This does not mean that Bruges would not be interested in cooperation with others, as well in the short term as in the long run, for particular projects. Here follow a few examples.

Bastognemarker, Luxembourgmarker, Belgiummarker
After World War II and into the 1970s, Bruges, more in particular the Fire Brigade of Bruges, entertained friendly relations with Bastognemarker. Each year a free holiday was offered at the seaside in Zeebrugge, to children from the Nuts city.
Arolsenmarker, Hessemarker, Germanymarker
From the 1950s until the 1980s, Bruges was the patron of the Belgian First Regiment of Horse Guards, quartered in Arolsenmarker.
Salamancamarker, Castilla y Leónmarker, Spainmarker
Both towns having been made European Capital of Culture in 2002, Bruges had some exchanges organized with Salamancamarker.
Monsmarker, Hainautmarker, Belgiummarker
In 2007, cultural and artistic cooperation between Monsmarker and Bruges was inaugurated.
Burgosmarker, Castilla y Leónmarker, Spainmarker
On 29 January 2007, the mayors of Burgosmarker and Bruges signed a declaration of intent about future cooperation on cultural, touristic and economic matters.

Noteworthy residents

The following people were born in Bruges:

In the 15th century, the city became the magnet for a number of prominent personalities:

In media

Brugse Zot.
The exterior of the Boudewijn Seapark dolphinarium in Bruges.


External links


  1. Statistics Belgium; Population de droit par commune au 1 janvier 2008 (excel-file) Population of all municipalities in Belgium, as of 1 January 2008. Retrieved on 2008-10-19.
  2. Statistics Belgium; De Belgische Stadsgewesten 2001 (pdf-file) Definitions of metropolitan areas in Belgium. The metropolitan area of Bruges is divided into three levels. First, the central agglomeration (agglomeratie), which in this case is Bruges municipality, with 117,073 inhabitants (2008-01-01). Adding the closest surroundings (banlieue) gives a total of 166,502. And, including the outer commuter zone (forensenwoonzone) the population is 255,844. Retrieved on 2008-10-19.
  3. Bruges - A brief historical background.
  4. Braudel, Fernand, The Perspective of the World, in Vol.III Civilization and Capitalism, 1984
  5. Historic centre of Bruges becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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