My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
A Virtual Tour through Mediaeval Bruges
The weather turned into a mix of sunshine and clouds during the days I spent in Bruges, but despite the dramatic appearance of some of those clouds, it never rained.
A tour on the canals is very popular
Bruges has even more canals than Ghent
, so one of the first things I did was to take a tour on the water, which was almost as crowded as the streets. A bicycle taxi proved the fastest way to get to my hotel, winding its way through narrow lanes and tourist clusters. (Ghent has recently closed its old town for most cars which makes walking the narrow lanes easier.) And this is Bruges in April; in summer you'll better get a Nimbus 3000 to move around. *grin*
Old houses at the canals
There are a lot of old houses along the canals, and bits of green wherever it manages to grow. It is a lovely way to explore Bruges. I got a bunch of photos and will post more of them in a separate post some day..
There are a lot of bridges
There are a lot of bridges as well. When you stand up to take a photo over the heads of the other people in the boat, you need to watch out for those and duck in time, because most of the bridges are very low. In the Middle Ages, cogs could reach the former Water Hall at the market place, but on the smaller canals, transport was done by barges.
When the sun disappeared behind a layer of grey clouds, the vista reminded me a bit of the 19th century Bruges desribed in George Rodenbach's novel Bruges-la-morte
(published 1892) with its grey houses, dark waters and mists. At that time, the town had lost its connection with the sea due to silting of the Zwin river, and the industry didn't take hold like fe. in Antwerp
But today, tourists enliven the picture in most places even on a dreary day. Though there are spots where few tourists go (and miss out on some pretty and interesting places).
Sometimes the sun came out
And when the sun came out, the canals were a most lovely place. This charming spot can be found behind the choir of the Church of Our Dear Lady, Bruges' main church (more below).
Cloth Hall with belfry
Bruges has its Cloth Merchants' Hall with a high belfry, too, dating to the 13th century. It is 83 metres (272 feet) high and can be ascended by 366 stairs. The view from top is probably spectacular, but I don't like heights and I didn't fell like ascending 366 stairs, either. Plus, those vistas never come out as grand on photos. In summer, people sometimes wait for an hour and more to get inside, because the number of people allowed in the tower is limited.
Pretty old houses at the Market
The belfry dominates the market square, but on the opposite side is a row of pretty old houses, another postcard motive.
Under those green sunshades hides a whole row of restaurants with yummy, albeit somewhat expensive, Belgian food. Yes, I did try the famous mussels and loved them.
The hall of the Provincial Court at the market
The third side of the market square is framed by the Hall of the Provincial Court, an 19th century Neo-Gothic building erected on the site of the old Water Hall, a roofed-in harbour in the Middle Ages.
The well in the foreground shows the figures of Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breydel, two men who led a Flemish uprising and successfully fought against the French occupants at the batte of Kortrijk, also known as the Battle of the Golden Spurs, in 1302.
The old town hall
The oldest square in Bruges is called Steen
, after the castle that once stood there. The town hall - now its outstanding feature - was completed in 1421. It is the oldest example of a municipal building in the Brabantine Gothic style in Belgium. The town halls of Ghent and Leuven followed its example.
Town hall, interior: the great hall
The interior was restored about 1900 in the Gothic revival style. The two halls were joined into one and the ceiling renewed with some Gothic looking beam constructions. The murals show scenes from the history of Bruges.
Holy Blood Chapel, interior
The Chapel of the Holy Blood started out as a two storeyed chapel adjacent to the old castle. In 1150, Thierri of Alsace, Count of Flanders, returned from the second crusade with a relic of the Holy Blood; until today one of the most venerated relics in Catholic Flanders. It is presented in a famous procession every year.
The upper chapel was transformed in Gothic style in the 15th century, and altered again in the 19th, this time in Gothic revival style. The chapel is now a - to my taste - overdecorated mix of styles. It is also full of tourists.
St.Basil's Chapel, interior
The lower chapel, known as St.Basil's Chapel, was never changed and therefore kept its Romanesque style. Regular readers of my blog know that this is my favourite style in architecture, so I really enjoyed this beautiful example. The place was much quieter, too.
Tower of the Church of Our Dear Lady, seen from one of the canals
The tower of the Church of Our Lady is the second tallest brick tower in the world. It rises to 122.3 metres (401 ft.). The cathedral was erected in several stages from the 13th to the 15th century; its dominating style is Gothic.
Unfortunately, the tower was pretty much the only part not scaffolded in right now. Most of the interior is not accessible due to renovation work, either.
Michelangelo's Madonna with Child
What can be seen is the church's most famous treasure (and they charge the full fee for it even during renovation); the Madonna with Child sculpted by Michelangelo in 1504. Merchants from Bruges bought it during the artist's lifetime and gifted it to the town.
I almost missed it. The madonna is a small part of a huge Baroque altar setting with pillars of black marble which I walked right past because I'm not a fan of that style. I had to ask a guide where the statue was hiding.
Old St.Johns Hospital
St. John's hospital dates back to the 11th century and was expanded during the Middle Ages, eventually incorporating a monastery and a convent. Further wards were added in the 19th century. It was a place where the sick too poor to pay for private treatment by a physician, including pilgrims and travellers, were cared for. It was in use as hospital until 1977. Today, the buildings house a congress centre and museums.
Béguinage Ten Wijngaerde, the inner court
Of all the béguinages in Flanders, the one in Bruges is the most beautiful, especially in spring when the narcisses on the central lawn are in bloom. It was founded in 1245 by Margaret of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders and Hainaut. Fun fact aside: she had a few too many sons from two marriages, which led to a nasty little succession war.
Most of the pretty white houses date to the 16th - 18th century. Beguines lived there until 1927, since then it is a convent of Benedictines, and a place of quiet despite the tourists (most of them respect the signs that ask for silence).
The Ghent Gate
is one of the remaining gates of the Mediaeval town fortifications. The town walls date to 1297 (little of them remains), but several of the gates are from the early 15th century, including the Ghent Gate. It includes a little museum which unfortunately was closed for lunch; and I didn't have the time to return.
Jerusalem Chapel, interior
One of the places missed out by the busloads of tourists is the Jerusalem Chapel and the town manor of the Adorne family, who some may know from the Niccolò
series by Dorothy Dunnett. A member of the Adorne family - which had moved from Genua to Bruges in the 13th century - commissioned the chapel in 1470. An existing chapel was altered to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Chapel, the crypt
The main room with the stone altar and stone-carved calvary is flanked by two staircases leading to a second floor with another altar. Hidden behind the stairs is the entrance to the crypt which in turn leads to a narrow corridor and a small room with an imitation of the holy sepulchre.
There were no other tourists around and I found the chapel to be a nice and peaceful place. Some rooms of the former manor house include a small museum about the Adorne family.
House Ter Beurze
The place in front of the inn run by the family van der Beurze
was used as stock exchange market since the 14th century, when purely financial transactions were introduced from Italy. The family also worked as brokers and agents for visiting merchants. The house and square gave the name to the German word for stock exchange market - Börse. The house with its Gothic façade dates to 1493, though the inn existed since 1276.
Seven houses in seven different styles
Bruges is a town with lots of old houses, often with crow step gables or decorated façades in late Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque style. The ones in this photo represent seven different styles; the houses just happened to end up in a row.
Crow step gabled brick houses
A number of houses are made of brick and reminded me of Lübeck, like the ones in the photo above.
Bruges is a town that is best explored by walking around a lot, also outside the main tourist paths (and a boat tour on the canals, of course).
Van Eyck Square
The Jan van Eyck Square lies on the site of the former toll stop for ships visiting Bruges. At that time the canal, crossed by a bridge, ran all the way to the market. Part of it has been covered in the 18th century, thus creating the square. Today, the pretty vista is included in the boat tours.
Dominated by the Cathedral - Antwerp's Old Town
Antwerp is a bigger city than Ghent or the charming Bruges, with one of the largest ports in Europe and a famous shopping mile, but the historical centre is no larger than in the other towns.
Interior of the central railway station in Antwerp
I visited the city on a day trip from Ghent - the train connections are very good - so the first thing I saw of Antwerp was the railway station, an imposing hall in the Art Nouveau style built between 1895-1905 and renovated in the 1980ies, after the consequences of bomb damage during WW2 and constant vibrations from the fast speed trains had made the building instable.
The spire of the cathedral against the morning sun
It followed a walk along the 'fashion mile' to the old town. Antwerp is famous for its fashion, but since I can get the labels I want in my home town, I didn't stop in any of the stores. I like nice clothes, but I'm not a fashionista. If you want to do some shopping, you need to plan more time for your visit to Antwerp, though.
The towers of the cathedral westwork
One cannot miss the way, because the 123 metres (404 foot) high tower of the cahtedral is well visible, especially in the morning sun. Originally, there should have been two towers crowning the westwork, but at some point the money went out. The story of so many public buildings. ;-)
Cathedral of Our Lady, interior
Like so many other Gothic churches, the Cathedral of Our Lady has been erected in place of an older church. Construction started in 1352, but it took about two hundred years to finish, so most of it is in the Brabantian Gothic style, known as flamboyant style in England. It is an imposing seven-naved building of 120 metres (390 ft.) length and 75 metres (264 ft.) width.
Details of the crossing cupola
The interior of the cathedral was severely damanged in a fire in 1533, and during the Calvinist iconoclasitc fury, much was destroyed as well, but today several paintings of Rubens as well as other works from his compatriots are displayed in the church. Most of the other interior is Neo-Gothic, like fe. the choir stalls.
The cathedral is closely surrounded by houses, so it was difficult to get good exterior shots. But I found a nook between roofs where I got get a closeup of some flying buttresses. I'll save a few more photos for another post about the cathedral.
In front of the cathedral is the Glove Makers' Market, one of several places in Antwerp. It is rather cozy with some pretty old houses with crow-stepped gables.
Fine old houses at the Grote Markt
More of those houses can be found on the Grote Markt
, the Great Market. Those are even more splendidly decorated. Most of them are 19th century reconstructions of old Renaissance and Baroque houses, but they kept the style matching the town hall.
The town hall of Antwerp
The town hall of Antwerp is late Gothic in style, one of the finest town halls in Belgium.
The well in front of it shows the foundation legend of Antwerp - (H)ant werpen
(Hand Throwing). Some evil giant took a toll from every ship passing on the nearby Scheldt river and cut the hand off everyone who didn't pay, until a Roman soldier named Silvio Brabo put an end to it by cutting the hand off the giant. He threw the hand into the river, and on that island Antwerp was built.
The name rather goes back to aanwerp
, a headland. The oldest remaining part of the town is the castle Het Steen
on a headland in the Scheldt river. The castle dates back to the 12th century, though it has been changed in 1520 when Charles V had it altered to accomodate artillery. The keep was also replaced by a palace building.
The Steen was used as prison from the 15th - 19th century; until 2011 it had been a museum.
The Steen, seen from the other side
The Steen looks like the little brother of the Gravensteen, but once it was part of a series of fortifications that protected access to Antwerp and controlled the traffic on the Scheldt river.
The river Scheldt
The river Scheldt which enters the North Sea 60 miles further north-west has always been the heart of Antwerp, its harbour in the Middle Ages, its port nowadays. In the 19th century, more than two million people left Europe for America by ship from Antwerp.
I left the town in direction of the railway station and back to Ghent.
A Virtual Tour through Mediaeval Ghent
Let us take a little tour of Ghent in Flanders, one of the largest towns in Europe in the 13th century, famous for its trade in fine cloth, member of the Hanseatic League, and a town with a lot of its old buildings intact. In short, the perfect place for me to visit.
Gravensteen castle, just a few steps from my hotel
It was warm and sunny when I arrived in Ghent. And right outside the very nice hotel situated in a old town house, I found this fascinating castle, called Gravensteen
No question where to go first. :-)
A big whopping castle in the middle of Ghent
The castle is huge and I spent quite some time exploring all the corners and rooms, inlcuding the torture chamber. Unfortunately, the historical buildings in Flanders often don't provide guidebooks like the ones I keep bringing back home from Scotland or Wales (or the more famous German sites), so I will have to hunt down some information for a longer post some later time.
The great hall
The castle was built by the counts of Flanders in the 12th century. They lived in the place until about 1400 when they moved to the - now destroyed - Prince's Palace. The castle then served as high court of justice until the French Revolution and afterwards housed a cloth manufactury. The Gravensteen was restored to its Mediaeval look in the early 20th century.
Outer curtain walls with walkway and battlements
Due to the fine weather and it being a Sunday, there were a lot of tourists around, but I could still mostly photograph around them. The place will be even more crowded in late spring and summer. There also was a knight in shining armour who posed for pictures with the kids.
The oldest hall
The castle is dominated by the donjon
turned into a great hall, surrounded a set of curtain walls with 24 watch towers. The high double gate tower reminds me a bit of the Edwardian castles in the UK. The oldest hall (photo above) is now under the ground level of the inner bailey.
The gate tower seen from the curtain walls
When I finally left the Gravensteen I walked around in the old town, looking for pretty vistas which I found in abundance, esp. with the sun and lots of water to add to the beauty. Later I also took a tour on the canals - you can't visit either Ghent or Bruges without doing one of those.
Pretty old houses at the Kornlei
Ghent lies at the confluence of the Leie (Lys) river into the Scheldt (which in turn enters the North Sea) and had been criscrossed by canals called Grachten
in the Middle Ages. Many of them have been filled in or covered up in later centuries, but there are still a number of waterways around, and the town plans to open up several more.
A canal tour by boat
Here is a shot from the boat. The red brick building to the right is the Fishers' Hall, a Neogothic building at the place of the old fish market. There are a lot of tourists from the French speaking part of Belgium around, so the guide gave the tour in Flemish Dutch, French and English. A fun way to pick up some Flemish.
Vleeshuis - the Butchers' Hall
At the other side one can see the Butcher's Hall. The quality control of meat was very important and every butcher who wanted to sell his wares could only do so in this hall since the 15th century - the time to which the building dates. Today, local food produces are sold in the hall.
Old houses at the Graslei
And more pretty houses, either truly old, or restored. The grey stone house with the crow step gable dates to the 13th century. Graslei and the opposite Korenlei (not to be confused with the Kornlei in a photo further up) were the old town harbour. Today the quays are full of restaurants where one can sit outside in fine weather.
Het Rabot - the remaining city wall gate
The remaining town gate, called The Rabot, dates to the late 15th century. It is a combination of gate and sluice, situated where the river Leie crosses the town moat. The name is a corruption of the French word rabattre
- shut down the beams.
The next morning started out misty, but the sun came out about mid day.
The fortified manor of Geraard de Duivelsteen was one of the first stone houses in Ghent. It started out as fortified house in the 13th century. The large windows were probably added by Geraard 'the Devil' in the 14th century. We don't know for sure why I got that nickname; some say that he had an unusually dark skin, others blame his alleged five marriages and mysteriously dying wives.
Town hall, the Gothic façade
The town hall is a work of several centuries, as its façades show: the older one is flamboyant Gothic, the younger one Renaissance style. The Gothic part was begun in 1518 to grand plans, but only part of the house was eventually built and most of the niches in the façade don't hold any statues as was intended. When construction was continued, the style had changed and the other side got a Renaissance design.
The 13th century Ter Hoyen béguinage
The eldest of the three béguinages in Ghent. Beguines were women who lived together in a semi-religious community without taking vows (though they remained chaste). A lot of them were widows. In the Middle Ages, béguinages were often founded by nobles to provide charity for the poor, later women had to buy themselves in. Béguinages are typical for Flanders and the Netherlands where they were in use until the last century.
Yard in the Huis van Alijn
Huis van Alijn once was a hospital and infirmary, then an ethnological museum, and now a museum showing furniture of the 20th century. Well, I didn't care about rooms decorated in the style of the 1970ies - I had one of those myself - but the courtyard with its little pub is a lovely and quiet place to sit and have one of the famous Belgian beers.
The Friday Market is the place in the Ghent that has seen a lot of history since 1199, processions and tournaments, but also revolts and bloodbaths, like the feud between the weavers and fullers in 1314. Edward III of England was given a splendid reception here in 1340, much to the displeasure of the King of France.
St.Nicolai Church and Stone Masons' Guild Hall (right)
A nice view of one of the churches of Ghent, St.Nicolai, another Gothic building, with the Stone Masons' Guild Hall to the right. The latter had been hiding behind a façade from the 19th century until 1976. The old one has now been restored.
St.Bavo cathedral, the Romanesque crypt
The most famous church is St.Bavo Cathedral. The building is mostly 16th century Brabantian Gothic, but the crypt is Romanesque, remains of an older church beneath it. The famous Ghent Altar of van Eyck is displayed in the cathedral, but no photos of that one, sorry. Absolutely verboten.
The canals of Ghent
Let us return to the cathedral and the Bavo Square in front of its westwork. The place is framed on the other side by another building with a tall tower, the belfry of the Cloth Merchants' Guild Hall (Lakenhal
A tale of two towers:Right: belfry of the Cloth Merchants' Hall; left: tower of St.Bavo cathedral
There was a competition going on between the rich merchants and the Church who could build the higher tower. Today, the belfry of the Cloth Merchants' Guild Hall and the main tower of St. Bavo Cathedral dominate the skyline of Gent's old town. The third, the tower of St.Nicolai Church, isn't quite as high. The belfry is 91 metres high, the cathedral tower 89. The merchants won.
Evening in the Patershol quarter
In the 19th century, the Patershol was a poor workmen's quarter and fell into decline when most of the industry left the town, but in the last 20something years the houses have been renovated, and today it is a very nice place.
Posts about Bruges
and the other places I've visited (Antwerp
) are linked here.