“Somewhere within the dingy casing lay the ancient city,” wrote Graham Greene of BRUGES, “like a notorious jewel, too stared at, talked of, and trafficked over”. Bruges is fairy tale enchanting and the completely walkable or cyclable city of Belgium comes complete with romantic canals, floating milky white swans and some very incredible architecture. One of the most picturesque cities in Europe, Bruges is famous for waffle, french fries or Frites, Belgian moules , beer and lace. Chocolate too is one of its highlights and all these makes Bruges a perfect destination for a short getaway. Sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North”, the oval shaped Bruges is a prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is also the largest city of the West Flanders province of Belgium. A very prosperous medieval center, Bruges’ riches came from its port and it was once the chief commercial city in the world. A tidal inlet called the “Golden Inlet” helped Bruges luck soar and ever since lady luck has always smiled on the trading town. Holding a strategic location at the crossroads of the northern Hanseatic League and the southern trade routes, Bruges has been busy in the trading circuit of the Flemish and French cloth fairs since the beginning of the 13th century.
Primarily a trading town, the erstwhile entrepreneurs of Bruges were an innovative bunch, who worked hard to make the city rise in commercial prominence. They developed or borrowed new trading systems from Italy, formed co-operatives, deployed new economic exchange and welcomed foreign traders with open arms. These efforts ushered a Golden Era for Bruges in the 12th century and a wool market, a woolens weaving industry and a cloth market flourished within the city walls. Over the period of time, the Bruges entrepreneurs set out to create trading colonies in England and Scotland’s wool producing districts and these contacts brought them grains from Normandy and Gascon wines. Soon Hanseatic merchant ships started crowding the harbour and the wealthy Genoan merchants immediately started trading with Bruges. Thus, the walled Flemish city slowly became a prominent commercial capital of the world and it is believed that the first ever stock exchange was also set up there. Such amassing of wealth unfortunately brought with it many social upheavals and Bruges was nearly always in constant internal turmoil.
Along with the conflicts, silting of the Golden Inlet also brought the prosperous merchant city to a slow decline and Bruges eventually lost its prominence to Antwerp. For several decades, the gorgeous city had faded into oblivion, until influx of rich French and British tourists in the last half of the 19th century again brought Bruges back to prominence. Soon the preserved medieval town became one of the world’s first tourist destinations and today, it is one of the most photographed and visited places in Europe. Bruges thrives on tourism and majority of its visitors explore it on a day trip from Brussels. Weekends swell this number into staggering volume and the city resembles a crowded bazaar. Throngs of excited tourists beeline through its picturesque cobbled lanes and the meandering dreamy canals choke with sightseeing boats. The crowded waterways loop and interlink the photogenic market squares where the soaring towers, historic churches and old whitewashed almshouses swarm with camera totting visitors. Restaurants get snappy, while trying to cater to the masses and the beer houses get filled to the gills. While, these do nothing to mar the gorgeous beauty of the medieval town, the heaving crowd tend to overwhelm and make it look like Disneyland.
In the evenings, however when, the bulk of the crowd melt into a trickle, the intimate charm of Bruges comes alive and the city gets bathed in golden floodlight. The ancient cobbled lanes too get quieter and the gorgeous medieval town literally seems to breathe a sigh of relief. Tired after a busy day, the city recedes into its soft sooty shadows for rest and only the snow white swans reflect on the still canal waters. Those are the best moments to spend in Bruges and this photo essay is dedicated to its painting like ethereal beauty. Unlike, most of my other posts, I have digitally altered the photos to enhance Bruges fairy tale like quality and these represent the memory that we have of the famous European medieval town. In our eyes, Bruges is softly rain washed, pastel shaded with droopy glistening trees, violet sky and beautifully lit up golden monuments. It is a dream which is here to stay.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE