1. The Market
- The Market, located in the center of Bruges, was a bustling trading center in the Middle Ages. Townspeople gathered in the 2.5 acre cobblestone square for festivals, public executions, and competitions. Now, the market is filled with horse drawn carriages, restaurants, bars, and stalls.
- In the middle of the square stands the statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, heroes of the Flemish resistance.
- The Gothic City Town Hall building occupies the square among medieval shops, restaurants, and cafes. The Town Hall, built in 1376, is adorned with statues of biblical figures and Counts of Flanders.
- At night, a soft light illuminates the Market. The glowing meeting place of the provincial government building, Provinciaal Hof, shines among the cafes and restaurants.
- The Belfry, standing 272 feet tall with 47 bells, is a landmark in the Market. The tower built from sand, lime, and bricks was used as a warehouse and market hall in the middle ages. In 1999, the Belfry became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can climb the 366 stairs, passing the middle ages treasury on the way to the top of the tower for a beautiful view of Bruges.
- Bruges Zot, the beer of Bruges, is brewed at De Halve Maan Brewery. With an overwhelming bottled beer selection, Bruges Zot Blond and Bruges Zot Dubble are the only beers on draft at the brewery.
- The jester on Bruges Zot beers arose from a legend dating back to the middle ages. Maximilian of Austria inherited the Netherlands when his wife passed away. After 6 years of reigning, Maximilian returned to Bruges. The people revolted against his government’s high taxes and Maximilian was imprisoned for 4 months. Upon release, the people organized a celebration for Maximilian, before asking permission to build a mental hospital in Bruges. Maximilian responded, the gates of Bruges should be closed because the town is already filled with fools. Since that comment, the residents have been known as the fools of Bruges.
- Beer literally flows through the streets of Bruges. Enough beer to fill 12,000 bottles an hour passes below the town’s historic streets through a 2 mile long pipeline from Halve Maan Brewery to their bottling plant.
3. Church of Our Lady
- Madonna of Bruges is proudly displayed in the Church of our Lady, the world’s second tallest brick building standing 377 feet tall. Construction began in the 1300’s, but the church wasn’t finished until 200 years later. Other works of art on display include various paintings and wood carvings, The Crucifixion of Christ by Anthony Van Dyck, and the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold.
- On display until December of 2015, we were just in time to view the marble statue, Madonna of Bruges. Differing from other sculptures by Michelangelo, Jesus is ready to step away from Mary as he loosely holds her hand. Mary glances not down at her son, but ahead of him with a look suggesting she already knows her son’s fate.
4. Belgian Waffles
- Waffles originated in the Middle Ages as street snacks sold outside of church. The waffles were inexpensive and made from readily available ingredients, barley and oats. Originally known as the Brussels Waffle, the creator, Maurice Vermersch, discovered many people did not know Brussels was the capital of Belgium and changed the name to Belgian Waffle. The delicious waffle pictured above is from Au Petit Café in the Market.
5. Quay of the Rosary
- The name The Quay of the Rosary originated from shops selling ivory and amber rosaries along the canal. Rozenhoedkaai, the meeting point of the Groenerei and Dijver canals, was a popular port for salt imported from Germany and France in the Middle Ages.
- There are 5 docking areas where visitors can enjoy a 30 minute cruise through the channels of canals passing under more than 50 stone bridges. Along the canal some of the homes still have no windows or bricks remain where a window once was as a result of window tax imposed on the city in the 1800’s.
6. Belgian Chocolate
- In 1912 the praline, a chocolate with a hard outer shell and soft center, was created in Belgium. Home to 2 of the world’s largest chocolate factories, Callebaut and Puratos, over 170,000 tons of chocolate is manufactured in Bruges each year.
7. The Charm
- Crow stepped gable, a staircase design on the top of the front and back of a building, was an easy way to finish building brick walls. This is a very common design of Dutch and Flemish houses. Although decorative, it is difficult to keep water from leaking inside.
- The ornate architecture is beautiful. Looking closely, the whit of the Belgians is revealed in small statues above windows, atop buildings, on corners, and hiding among the bricks.
- Charming cafes, shops, restaurants, and sitting areas are tucked away among the winding cobblestone streets. Chocolates, beer steins, lace, tea pots, and other souvenirs are for sale within the small, welcoming shops.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: No visit to Bruges is complete without a photo with Donatello the Suricat. Looking closely while exploring the town of Bruges, the photo ready suricats can be found posing in a residential window. Next stop: the capital of Belgium, Brussels!