Bruges: A trip back in time
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Due to the channels that run through it, the Flemish city of Bruges is often called Northern Venice. But it has almost nothing in common with the Italian jewelry. This does not mean, however, that it is better. Bruges is, like Venice, a city in which time has stopped in place. Surrounded by old buildings, Bruges seems to be brought to life only by the thousands of tourists who walk the caldera & nbsp; unchanged, even for centuries.
The first historical mention of the Belgian city dates from the 9th century, but the true development of Bruges began three centuries later, with the flourishing of trade in the Netherlands. Advantaged by its geographical position, close to the sea and at a short distance from the English ports beyond the Canal, Bruges was included in the trade route of the Hanseatic League and became a major trading center. The fact that here opened, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the first stock exchange in the world shows the privileged position that Bruges enjoyed in that period (XII-XV centuries). Moreover, in the fifteenth century, the city had reached such a level of development that the population had grown to 125,000-150,000 inhabitants, five times more than it had at the time, London.
The same sea that brought Bruges prosperity would bring them, beginning with the sixteenth century, and the end, when the city's exit to the sea was partially blocked - and then completely - by the constant flooding. The city remained, therefore, without exit to the sea, implicitly without the possibility of continuing its vast commercial activity. Its place was taken by the neighboring rival Antwerp, and the merchants and the inhabitants gradually left the city, until Bruges became a small provincial town, impoverished and poorly populated. Somehow, this clinical death situation in which the Flemish city entered has saved him. Avoided by modernization trends since the eighteenth century, but also by the industrial revolution, Bruges remained unchanged and we see it today almost as it was in its Golden Age.
The passage of time has bypassed the city of Bruges for almost 600 years, to this day. The hopes of the inhabitants were reborn in the 19th century, when the British aristocracy discovered a beautiful holiday destination here. Tourism was the salvation of Bruges, especially since the city was not destroyed during the two world wars, when Belgium was occupied by the Germans. But the same tourism is suffocating this city today: because it is very close to Brussels (1h30) and at a relatively short distance from the British coast, but also big cities like Amsterdam or Paris, Bruges is always full of tourists, especially at weekends.
Many come to Bruges on day trips, so the only times when the city can be visited quietly are early in the morning, before the arrival of the waves of tourists, and late in the evening, after their departure, when only those staying overnight, and the city draws its soul. Therefore, it is advisable to book for Bruges for several days, even if the city is quite small and, at first glance, there are not many to see. But it deserves this chance. The city center, unchanged for so many centuries, must be explored street by street; a boat ride on canals is obligatory; a tour of the artisan chocolate shops, a Belgian specialty, is also required, as well as a tour of the breweries (with tastings of local beers). rigor in both cases). A little further from the center, a visit to the old gates of entry into the city and to one of the traditional windmills also send us thinking of the old days of the Netherlands. But beware: the sights and some shops are closed on Monday!
The central market (Grote Markt) is one of the main objectives of the city. Surrounded on all sides by terraces and restaurants, the market is dominated by a 13th-century bell tower, 83 meters high. Climbing involves 366 steps, but the view from above is fantastic: from here you can admire the whole old center, the whole city and, still further, the sea.
Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk is the most visited church in the city for several reasons. Its tower, at 122 meters, is the tallest structure in Bruges, and inside there is a sculpture by Michelangelo, Madona and the child, which is said to be the only work of the artist who left Italy during his life. It was stolen here twice - in 1794, by the French revolutionaries, and in 1944, by the Nazis.
In Bruges, as in any other medieval city, there are many other churches and religious sites. Many believers go to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, located in the center of the city, which has housed for centuries a vial containing the blood of Jesus (brought here after the Third Crusade).
Groeningemuseum is the most famous art museum in Bruges and exhibits many works by Flemish and Dutch artists. For those who do not appreciate early Dutch painting (or simply do not want to see another art museum), there are other options in Bruges: a chocolate museum, a brewery-museum and, of course, a fried potato museum (traditional "fries").
Bruges is more and more surrounded by tourists, which is not discouraged by the weather. For those who believe that London is among the rainiest destinations on the continent: know that it is raining more and more often in Bruges than in the British capital. Therefore, you must be lucky to catch a beautiful, sunny day in Bruges, all the more so on a really hot day. Because most tourists come in summer, the seasons indicated for a visit here are spring and autumn. Even in winter it is not to be avoided: even if it is cold, the city looks exactly like stories when it is covered by snow.