July 5, 2018

Beautiful Bruges

by Rosemary

Bruges is the most picturesque city we have visited. A rich trading center from the 11th century until the harbor silted up in the 1500s, the city was once inhabited by the Dukes of Burgundy and hosted some major artists. When its prosperous commerce came to an end, it languished for generations. Today it is a walkable, well-preserved Gothic city that thrives on tourism.

The bell tower on Market Square has been there since around 1300 (and made taller in 1486). There are 366 narrow, winding steps to the top. We didn't climb them. The 47-bell carillon plays automatically each quarter hour, and can be heard at quite a distance.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is famous for its relic, a crystal tube that supposedly contains the blood of Jesus, brought from Jerusalem after the Second Crusade. The day we visited, there was a special ceremony going on, and believers were allowed to make a donation and pray with the relic.

The gold-trimmed Renaissance Hall was once the courthouse and now holds the city archives. It dates to the early 1700s, and is topped by a statue of Justice.

City Hall was built around 1400. Its facade is decorated with statues of saints, knights, and local bigwigs.

Narrow, medieval streets lead to mysterious destinations.

A fancy bridge crosses the alley near the spot where the city's south gate and moat once were.

This statue depicts Jan Breidel and Pieter de Coninc, heroes of a 1302 uprising against the French king.

All over town, it is important to look up, look sideways, and look around, to spot decorative features on the old buildings.

This dark patch was left on the wall to show what things looked like before centuries of grime were scrubbed from the city in the 1960s.

Horse and buggy tours make their way through town. We could hear the clop-clop of horseshoes on cobblestones as they approached, giving us plenty of warning to get out of the way.

The horses have their own drinking fountain.

We enjoyed a relaxing boat ride on the canals.

There are over 50 bridges in Bruges, most of them old and made of stone or brick. This one is a contemporary art installation by Jaroslaw Kozakiewicz. Unlike the others, it leads to a dead end.

Another modern art installation is this whale sculpture by StudioKCA, made from plastic trash collected on beaches.

Most of the art we saw in Bruges was more traditional. This marble "Madonna and Child" by Michelangelo sits in the Church of Our Lady. After the artist's "Pieta" in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, was attacked in 1972, this statue was placed behind bulletproof glass and a guard rail that keeps the public at a distance.

The former St. John's Hospital is now a museum with displays of medieval medicine, a shrine to St. Ursula, and a collection of paintings by Hans Memling, a German painter who became a leading artist in Bruges during the 1400s. His enormous altarpiece, a triptych called "The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine," was dedicated to the patients here.

At the Groeninge Museum we saw works by a number of Belgian, Dutch, and Flemish painters. In "Death and the Miser" (c. 1515) by Jan Provoost, we see a merchant making a bad deal, getting some extra cash from Death and handing over an IOU for a few years of his life.

James Ensor's series on the seven deadly sins (1904) includes this portrayal of Pride.

A stroll in Minnewater Park was a pleasant way to end the afternoon.

And, of course, waffles.

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