Bruges is a beautiful medieval city almost untouched by time. If you like jazz,
you will be well catered for. If you like chocolate and beer, you will in heaven.
~James Frain, English Actor
Walking Through A Magical Medieval Fairytale In Brugge
BRUGGE, BELGIUM - Walking through Brugge is like walking through a fairytale. This medieval city is magical at every turn.
It is mainly a walking city, although you will see a few vehicles outside of the immediate city center. The best way to get around is on foot. My friend, Diane, and I who were exploring Brugge together can attest to it being a walking city, or should I say our feet can.
If you want to feel as though you have entered medieval times there are horse and buggy for hire that will take you from the Market Square to the area of Love Lake and Beguinhof where the swans swim the canal. This way of getting around town was quite magical. If you close your eyes for a moment and listen to the sounds of the horse's hooves clattering on the cobblestone you may be transported to days past.
Diane headed off to visit a nearby museum and I decided for another perspective of the city that I would go to the canal just down from the Belfry on Market Square and get in line for a tour boat. I waited about a half hour, but it was worth every minute of wait to see the buildings from the canal, in a boat, a means of transportation in medieval days. The grey haired, bearded Captain, with a look right out of a storybook, provided a thorough narrative as we passed under the walking bridges, past St. John's Hospital and on to the Beginhof and swans.
The historic center of Brugge has been occupied since the Middle Ages and the streets, places and open spaces still retain the original pattern of that time. The architecture and structures have been preserved, as can be seen in the Belfry, the Beginhoff, and St. John's Hospital, as examples. Neo-Gothic style was introduced when Gothic facades throughout the city in the late 19th century were renovated.
Brugge was a center for painting in the Middle ages and the birthplace of the Flemish Primitive style with artists such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.
Market Square, the heart of the city, is a good place to start the day with breakfast and a cappuccino or, later, a light lunch while people watching, or end the day with a glass of wine and rest your weary feet. Cafés line two sides of the square and the 12th century Belfry sits at the other end, ringing on the hour.
We would get up early and make our way through the winding streets, as the city came to life, to have breakfast at one of the many cafés lining the square. We laughed that although the presentation of the breakfasts varied a bit from café to café, that there must have been only one chef in the city making all the omelets, because they all looked the same wherever we ate!
Burg Square is just a block from Market Square. An administrative center in the Middle Ages, it still remains the administrative center of Brugge today and there is a lot to see here.
The first building we entered was the impressive Town Hall (The Stadhuis). One of the most beautiful buildings in Brugge, the Stadhuis, was built in 1376 and has been used to rule the city for over 600 years.
After paying an entrance fee and checking out the main entry floor, we climbed the stairs to the Gothic hall. This is the main meeting room, replete with a wood vaulted ceiling and paintings on the walls, illustrating the rulers and the conflict with the people of the time. Majestic and filled with history, this is not to be missed.
In a side room, just off the main hall was an interesting little room housing a small museum where items reflecting the history of Brugge and the city administration over the years were displayed.
The Old Courthouse sits next to Town Hall. The judicial hall was a small room where legal matters were handled. Beautiful tapestry covered the walls and an ornately, carved wooden fireplace dominated one side of the room. I imagined the medieval days when legal cases were heard and punishments were determined in this ornate room.
Between the Old Court House and Town Hall is Donkey Alley, a narrow pedestrian walkway that links Burg Square to the canal and Fish Market beyond. Diane passed the alley and headed for the Basilica of the Holy Blood, located adjacent to Town Hall, sitting in the corner of the square. In the basilica a vial containing a cloth that has drops of the blood of Christ on it can be seen. There are two levels to the basilica, a Romanesque lower chapel and a Gothic upper chapel.
While Diane explored, the Basilica, I headed over to a modern hotel that sits on a far corner of the square. I had read that it holds a little know historical ruin and decided to check it out. Upon entering, I went to the reception desk and asked where the ruins were and the front desk staff pointed to the stairs, so I headed down unsure what to expect.
St. Donatian's ruins dating back to 950 AD are located in the basement of the Crowne Plaza where the medieval church originally stood. The original ruins still stand and ancient artifacts are displayed in glass cases on the walls. Photos of the ancient site illustrate the excavation. Imagine going underneath a high end hotel and seeing the remains of the original building that sat on the site.
During the week we spent wandering the city, I think one of my favorite places we visited was the old hospital, St. Johns, that sits on the canal. I saw the outside from the canal on the boat ride and was anxious to see the interior.
First, we explored the exterior of the old hospital and the wards that cared for travelers and pilgrims for 7 centuries and the surrounding courtyards and beautiful gardens. We happened upon the historic apothecary inside one of the buildings. Shelves were lined with old ceramic jars used to hold the medieval remedies and some physican 'tools' were on display.
We headed to another building in the hospital complex to listen to a musician play the harp and other sound instruments in a small concert before entering the old hospital that now houses the Hans Memling Museum. I could feel the history that lies within this ancient structure and wondered about the experiences of those who came to this place to be healed, as I looked at the artifacts that represent medicine and art of the time.
The 'ambulance' of that era, on display, was a small wooden compartment on a platform that was carried by men through the streets of the city. I imagined, during the plague, patients being transported to the hospital in this way.
And, of course, because this was the Han Memling Museum, many of his beautiful and masterful paintings were on display throughout.
Walking through Brugge each day, Diane and I, started out with the goal of getting to the Beguinage. It was a few days before we ever arrived, as there were so many other sights and surprises that caught our interest, and the obligatory coffee at a café along the canals, that got in our way and ate up hours of each day. Finally, one day, unwilling to be sidetracked by other things, we finally arrived to our destination. The Beguinhof is located near Love Lake, alongside the canal where the swans spend their days floating in the water and grooming on the grassy area at the shore.
Stepping back in time, we entered the Beguinage grounds that were founded by pious women in 1244. Daffodils had been naturalized in the grass, amongst the trees, in the center of the grounds. The old stone church stood on one side of the field of flowers and whitewashed living quarters bordered the other three sides.
One of the highlights for me was entering the Beguine House museum where we were able to wander through the kitchen, sitting room, courtyard and bedroom to see how the women lived here in the past. The Beguinhof has served as a convent for Benedictines since 1927.
Saint Wallburga Church in Brugge, Belgium
This gorgeous church, Saint Wallburga Church, in Brugge, Belgium is a bit off the beaten path, a few blocks from Burg Square. I ran across this church while wandering the side streets away from the tourist spots. What a wonderful and delightful surprise!
The interior was stunning in black and white and the architectural detail of the ceiling and arches were captivating.
The hustle and bustle of the market on Burg Square happens weekly just in front of the historic Town Hall in Brugge, Belgium. Large flat bed trailers and deli counter trailers are positioned early in the morning and are filled with everything from fruits, vegetables, cheeses of all kinds, chicken turning on rotisseries, bakery goods, and waffles. The crowds scurried about getting bags of groceries before heading over to check out the freshly cut flowers or potted plants for their yards.
We headed to the waffle stand. After all, who can pass up a fresh hot waffle dripping with warm, rich and delicious, Belgian chocolate sauce?
Population: Approx. 117,206
Traditional foods to try: Flemish stew, mussels with fries, North sea grey shrimp
From Burg Square, pass through Donkey Alley to find the Fish Market. Fresh catch is sold here, and at certain times local artists sell their creations.
Minniwater Lake, also called Love Lake, is adjacent to the park.
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