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BRUGES has a significant economic importance thanks to its port. The historic city centre is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. Bruges received its city charter on July 27, 1128 and new walls and canals were built. Since about 1050, gradual silting had caused the city to lose its direct access to the sea. A storm in 1134, however, re-established this access, through the creation of a natural channel at the Zwin. The new sea arm stretched all the way to Damme, a city that became the commercial outpost for Bruges.

With the reawakening of town life in the twelfth century, a wool market, a woollens weaving industry, and the market for cloth all profited from the shelter of city walls, where surpluses could be safely accumulated under the patronage of the counts of Flanders. Bruges was already included in the circuit of the Flemish cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century. The city's entrepreneurs reached out to make economic colonies of England and Scotland's wool-producing districts. In 1277, the first merchant fleet from Genoa appeared in the port of Bruges, first of the merchant colony that made Bruges the main link to the trade of the Mediterranean.

The Bourse opened in 1309 (most likely the first stock exchange in the world) and developed into the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries in the 14th century.

Starting around 1500, the Zwin channel, which had given the city its prosperity, also started silting. The city soon fell behind Antwerp as the economic flagship of the Low Countries. During the 17th century, the lace industry took off, and various efforts to bring back the glorious past were made.

During the 1650s, the city was the base for Charles II of England and his court in exile. The maritime infrastructure was modernized, and new connections with the sea were built, but without much success. Bruges became impoverished and gradually disappeared from the picture, with its population dwindling from 200,000 to 50,000 by the end of the 1800s.

In the last half of the 19th century, Bruges became one of the world's first tourist destinations attracting wealthy British and French tourists.[clarification needed] Only in the second half of the 20th century has the city started to reclaim some of its past glory.

The port of Zeebrugge was built in 1907. The Germans used it for their U-boats in World War I. It was greatly expanded in the 1970s and early 1980s and has become one of Europe's most important and modern ports. International tourism has boomed, and new efforts have resulted in Bruges being designated 'European Capital of Culture' in 2002.



Just behind the Minnewater lies the Beguinage entitled 'De Wijngaard' (left).   It is one of those typical areas in Bruges where one can find more peace and quiet than in the sometimes busy and overcrowded streets of the town centre.

In 1937 the Beguinage became a monastery for the Benedictine sisters who still live there. The walled group of houses surround a garden interspersed with large poplar and willow trees.

The Beguinage was founded by the Countess of Flanders in 1245 It was created to house those people who believed in a purer, more mystical religion than that espoused by the material and formal aspirations of the regular clergy. They were distrusted and often persecuted by the church, but in the Netherlands and Belgium the female followers of this "Beguine" movement were tolerated and were allowed to live in separate areas (the Beguinages). The Beguines lived like normal nuns, but did not take the same vows and they could leave if they so desired. Most Beguinages that still exist are museums or houses for the elderly,and are to be found in northern Belgian cities.

The house and bridge (below) lies at the end of the park between Gruuthuse and Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Church. One 'authority' states that the bridge was built by the 15th century lord of Bruges, Lodewijk van Gruuthuse, to ford the canal between the Gruuthuse backyard and Onze-Lieve-Vrouw, to avoid walking around the canal when the family went to church. Another says that the bridge shown in the picture (St Boniface Bridge) was built in 1910. 'You pays your money and.......!'


Because of its canals Bruges is often called 'The Venice of the North'. The water situation in both cities was, however, very different.

Venice was founded on islands in a lagoon of the Adriatic sea.
Bruges lies deeper inland : that is, at least now because in the five centuries B.C.E. the Flemish coastline would have been flooded several times by the North Sea. When the waters retreated they left behind waterways through which ships could reach the area where Bruges is now situated.

The Flemish name 'Brugge' is probably derived from the Latin, 'Rogia' (the Latin name of the 'Reie' river which flowed through Bruges) and the Scandinavian 'Bryggia' which meant 'mooring place'.


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