It is only fair to say that the places that stir all people’s senses and that creep under their skin are extremely rare. These are the places that pluck their heartstrings, yet whose secrets they can’t unlock completely. Bruges happens to be such a unique place. Cultural and artistic, cosmopolitan, unashamedly Burgundian, mysteriously medieval, and a Unesco World Heritage site to boot. Strolling along Bruges’ alleys, picturesque canals and verdant ramparts visitors cannot but fall hopelessly in love with the city’s elegant mysteriousness.
For centuries, the canals of Bruges have linked the city to the sea, a guarantee of wealth and prosperity. International merchants built up Bruges into one of the largest Hanseatic cities. In the 15th century, the city flourished as never before. Large parts of the medieval heritage remained practically intact. Therefore, it is only logical that Unesco designated the entire city centre as a world heritage site. Today, as visitors saunter along the enigmatic canals, the arteries of the city, they can still immerse themselves in Bruges’ Golden Century.
The economic affluence of the 15th century brought rich merchants to Bruges. They moved into majestic city palaces, packed with works of art. In the wake of the Burgundian dynasty, the great Flemish primitives, including Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, found their creative niches in Bruges. The fine arts reigned supremely and Bruges quickly became the meeting place and source of inspiration for many artists. The world-famous masterpieces and other top collections can be seen today in one of the city’s 27 museums.
At the grand parties in the princely palace of the dukes of Burgundy, romance was all the rage. This is where mysterious stories found their roots. The legend of the Bruges swans came about in the period after Mary of Burgundy’s passing. Pieter Lanchals, a name which means ‘long neck’, who was one of the town administrators belonging to the court of Maximilian of Austria, was executed in the Bruges Market Square. Legend has it that Maximilian punished Bruges by obliging the population to keep ‘long necks’, or swans, on their lakes and canals till eternity. To this day, proud swans guard the Bruges canals. This elegant image, the windy mediaeval streets and cobbled squares turn Bruges into the most romantic destination.