The history of Bruges begins around 2000 years ago. At that time there was a Gallic-Roman settlement on the site of the city. The inhabitants did not live by agriculture alone, they also traded with England and the rest of Gaul. Around 270 the Germanic people attacked the Flemish coastal plain for the first time. The Romans probably still had a military fortification here at the end of the third century and during the fourth century. So it is very possible that Bruges was inhabited in the transition period to the early Middle Ages. When Saint Eligius came to spread Christianity in our area around 650, Bruges was perhaps the most important fortification in the Flemish coastal area.
Around a hundred years later trade started with Scandinavia in Bruges. The name Bruges in fact comes from the Old Norse “Bryggja” which means landing stage. The name Bruges has appeared on documents and coins since the middle of the ninth century. At that time there was already a strong citadel in Bruges (the Burg). And the city was not plundered by the Norsemen. The overseas trade between Bruges and Scandinavia, the Norsemen’s home, probably continued.
So Bruges has a long tradition of international port activity. The oldest trade settlement of Bruges and the early middle age port was accessible from the sea until around 1050. The second area of occupation outside the Burg was close to the present day Steenstraat and the Oude Burg. It was here that the city grew fastest until around 1100. The two oldest parish churches in Bruges, the Church of Our Lady St.-Saviour’s, were then at the edge of this district. They date from the ninth century.
This first walk starts on the Burg square. Here a number of historical buildings are worth your attention.
Basilica of the Holy Blood, Burg 10 : double chapel. On ground level : St. Basil’s Chapel (1139-1149) in roman style. The first floor chapel, converted into gothic style in the 15th century, contains a.o. the famous Relic of the Holy Blood (worship : every Friday). Sunday services : 8 a.m. & 11 a.m. Museum of the Holy Blood : exhibition of reliquaries, vestments, paintings and other artefacts.
City Hall, Burg 12 : one of the oldest gothic city halls (1376-1420) of the Low Countries. On the first floor is the prestigious Gothic Hall, with an impressive wooden and polychromed vault ceiling and historic wall-paintings. In the Historic Room a collection of items, documents and paintings relating to Bruges’ history are on display.
Old Recorders’ House, Burg 11A : Renaissance building (1534-1537). Inside is the Provincial Museum of the “Brugse Vrije”, with a.o. the superb oak chimney piece (1529) and alabaster frieze, conceived in honour of the emperor Charles V, royal portraits and justice scenes.
Old Country House of the “Brugse Vrije”, Burg 11. The original Country House was built in two eras (1520-25/1722-27). From the 18th century till the eighties it was the seat of the Court of Justice. Since 1988 it houses the City Administration Centre. At the Tourist Office you can get the necessary information to make the most of your visit.
Provost’s House, Burg 3 : baroque building (1665-66), former seat of the seigniory “Proostdij van Sint-Donaas”.
Under the trees on Burg square you can have a look at a stone replica of the former St. Donatian’s Cathedral (ca 900, destroyed in 1799). Remains of the romanesque choir gallery were excavated in 1988. The gallery was tastefully integrated in the cellars of the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Hotel. Nearby is also the sculpture representing The Lovers, a symbolic work of art referring to the numerous young couples coming to the City Hall to be married.