The Magical Streets And Must-sees Of Bruges
Her World Malaysia|April 2019

Arundhati Hazra walks us through the magical streets and must-sees of Bruges.

Bruges is often called a fairy-tale medieval city, but I didn’t really understand what this meant until I stepped off the train from Brussels. Cobbled streets led from the station into the town, flanked by gingerbread houses with brick facades – straight out of a Grimm Brothers’ story. It felt as if I’d fallen into one of the picture books I had read as a child, and I couldn’t have been happier.

A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY

Bruges rose to prominence in the early 12th century, due to its position on the tidal inlet of Zwin, which became known as the Golden Inlet due to its strategic position in European trade routes. Canals were built, which lent the city its name (brugga means ‘bridge’ in Old Dutch). As the Flemish cloth and wool industries grew, so did Bruges’ fortunes. During the 15th century, Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy, set up court in Bruges, ushering in its golden age. Not only was the city’s lace much sought-after, the oil painting techniques of the Flemish school were renowned globally.

In the latter half of the 15th century, the Zwin began silting up, and Bruges faded in importance. It languished until the late 19th century, when a push was made to promote it as a leisure destination for wealthy Europeans. The city was occupied by the Germans in World War II but escaped damage, and in the late 1960s, the capital of West Flanders province made a concerted effort to preserve its medieval history and beauty.

A SIGHT TO BEHOLD

My first stop is the imposing Church of Our Lady. Built over two centuries starting in the 13th century, the church’s tower looms over the city, and at 380 feet, is the second-tallest brickwork tower in the world. I get a crick in my neck admiring the tapering spire, flanked by smaller spires layered like a wedding cake. Inside, the Gothic central aisle is surrounded by statues of the apostles, with a gigantic wooden pulpit carved in the rococo style. On one wall is the painting The Adoration of the Magi, by 17th-century Flemish painter Gerard Seghers. I’m struck by the painting’s rich hues, and its diagonal composition that accentuates the drama of the scene. As I light a votive candle and sit in the pews, taking in the 18thcentury organ and beautiful arched ceiling, a sense of calm steals through me.

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