Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Brugge

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Brugge is a very walkable city, yet has many areas of great contrast. And of course, although the buildings are mainly quite old, they are still fully functional and in great condition. The hotel I've been staying in derives from 1470 and has been through a suitably torrid past leading to its recent renovation to modern boutique styling, yet still maintaining most of the old architectural features.

I gather Brugge started to issue coins back in the 9th Century, although almost certainly the original inhabitants go back a few hundred years further when the city would have also been a fortress to provide protectiion from lurking pirate ships.

There was a golden period to around the twelfth century where Brugge had good sea access and fortifications, making it a great staging post and creating a woollen market.

Later, Brugge also opened a Bourse (Stock Exchange) and this created further wealth for the area. Then the city turned towards arts as well, with the famous Flemish School of painting deriving from Brugge as well as William Caxton's first book in English being printed in Brugge.

So, by the 15th century, Philip the Good (the Duke of Burgundy) had set up his court in Brugge attracting a number of artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe.

Later, the river's silting allowed Antwerp to become a preferred port and this saw the start of a decline for Brugge as a key commercial centre.

But this rich history has served well nowadays for a town packed with architectural interest, many small cafes and bars, fine restaurants, artistic views on every street corner and of course the waffles and chocolates for which Belgium is well known.

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