The old medieval Flemish city of Bruges is situated northwest of Belgium in the province West-Vlaanderen. The city is located only 12km away from the North Sea coastline.
The history of Bruges goes back more than 2000 years. At that time the city consisted of several Gallo-Roman settlements. The people from this area traded with other parts of Gaul, Germania and England.
Around 650, the current area of Flanders was christened by Saint Eligius. In this time Bruges played an important role as a fortification. Soon trade with Scandinavia started. The official city name “Brugge” originates from the Old Norse “Bryggja”, which means pier. This trade connection with Scandinavia, is mainly the reason why the city was not plundered by the Vikings.
From the early beginning, Bruges functioned as an international harbor. Until 1050, the city was directly accessible from the sea. The city increased both in population and area mostly during the 11th –12th century. At the same time Bruges became a commercial center on European level. Due to its geographic location and the sedimentation of its harbor, the direct connection to the North Sea disappeared. However, this did not limit the expansion of the city during the Middle Ages. In this period Bruges had about 40 000 to 45 000 inhabitants. One of the most remarkable facts in the history of Bruges, was its important presence during the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302.
The 14th century was a very tumultuous period for Bruges: crisis, epidemics, revolts, wars, etc…From 1384 the Burgundian period started, which was a very positive time for Bruges. The prosperity of the city increased; art and culture flourished as never before.
All this lasted until the death of Maria of Burgundy. The city resisted to the policy of her husband Maximilian of Austria. This period had a negative influence on the city.
During the 16th century the city could recover in some way, but lost its first position to Antwerp. However Bruges continued to be a regional center, where art and culture continued to play an important role. At the beginning of 1600, the harbor of Bruges only had a minor commercial importance.
Bruges went in a relatively passive way through the revolution process of 1789 to 1830. Around 1850 Bruges was the poorest city of Belgium, where the bourgeoisie spoke French and the local population their Flemish dialect.
In the beginning of the 20th century the construction of a new sea harbor in Zeebrugge, (located along the coastline and only several kilometers from Bruges) was started.
Today Bruges is one of the most known and visited cities in northwest Europe for its historical buildings and picturesque views. Bruges is sometimes recalled as the Venice of the north.