Bruges (Brugge) was founded - probably in the 9th century - at the end of the little river 'de Reie'. The name Bruges comes from the old Scandinavian word 'Bryggia', which means ‘harbour, or mooring place’, and not ‘bridges’ as some people think. Because of the proximity of the North Sea, the settlement very quickly became an important international harbour. A sea-arm, called the Zwin, connected Bruges with the North Sea.
The young settlement acquired city rights as early as the 12th century. At that time a first protective wall was built around Bruges. Soon, however, the Zwin started to silt up. This could have caused major problems for the city, but Bruges adapted itself to this situation by creating outports in Damme and in Sluis. Also, transport of goods over land became more usual and in the 14th century Bruges became the starting point of a commercial transport road to the Rhineland (over Brussels and Leuven, cities in Brabant which also started to flourish because of this trade).
In the Middle Ages Bruges became the most important trade centre of north-west Europe. Flanders was then one of the most urbanised areas in Europe. Bruges had between 40,000 and 45,000 inhabitants, double the number now in the historic inner city.
From the 13th century Bruges was a bustling port and thriving commercial town. In particular, it was a centre for the export of Flemish cloth, an important product in medieval Europe. The money made from this trade, paid for the fine churches, public buildings and townhouses that can still be seen today.
Bruges - A Brief History
The 14th century saw a period of crises for Bruges and Flanders with revolts, epidemics, political unrest and war, and ended with the dynastic merger of Flanders and Burgundy. The Burgundian period in Bruges started in 1384. Bruges remained the most important trade centre, north of the Alps, for another century.
By the 16th century Bruges had lost its leading position to Antwerp. However Bruges remained important as a regional centre with a lot of international commercial contacts and a flourishing art sector. The split from the Netherlands in 1584, led to the decline of the city and Bruges slipped into a ‘wintersleep’ that lasted several centuries .There is a famous book written in this period called ‘Bruges La Morte’.
New textile industries were introduced in the 19th century, but to no avail. In the middle of the 1800's Bruges was the poorest city in Belgium and the first industrial revolution hardly disturbed the city. The 20th century, however, brought new life. The city was discovered by international tourism and the unspoilt medieval heritage turned out to be a new source of wealth for the 'Venice of the North'. Economically and industrially another important evolution took place. The new harbour of Zeebrugge (Sea Bruges-10 miles from the city on the Belgian coast) brought new developments and new industries to the region.
Did You Know…….William Caxton (c.1422 - 1492) Caxton was the first English printer and a translator and importer of books into England. Caxton was born in around 1422 in Kent. He went to London at the age of 16 to become an apprentice to a merchant, later moving to Bruges…