I have never heard of Bruges until I saw series of beautiful pictures on Facebook posted by my high school friend. I was planning the trip from Bergen, Norway to France at that time(August 2014).It looked like such a beautiful, cozy European medieval town.
Oh, actually, I had heard of Ghent at that time in Art History class in 2012 and the lecturer said Ghent altarpiece is one of the most famous altarpieces in the world and it has long history of losing its settled place. She also said that we should go to Ghent to see the altarpiece that the church in Ghent would hardly loan to other museums. At that time, I hardly imagined I would see the altarpiece in person but I made it 🙂
For these reasons, I decided to visit both towns in one day. I also wanted to explore different parts of Belgium besides Brussels.
Bruges(Brugge in Dutch) is a small town located in west of Belgium. You can go there from Brussels central station and it’s one hour away from Brussels by train.
Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact, making it one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The historic centre of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The history of this town goes back to the 9th century and it became one of the centers of trace since it’s the crossroad between northern Hanseatic League trade and the southern Hanseatic League trade from the 12th century to the 15th century.
These pictures are the beginning part of old Bruges. It’s so picturesque that I couldn’t stop taking photos on the way.
<Markt(Market Square) in Brugge>
Belgium has been historically and culturally influenced by France and Netherlands but it has distinct architecture. Markt(Market Square) is at the core of Old Bruges and the bell tower(Belfry) is the signiture medieval architecture in the square. The belfry was added to the market square around 1240, when Bruges was attending as an important centre of the Flemish cloth industry.
Canal is the main reason why this town attracts many visitors. Although it’s not famous as canal in Venice, it has its tranquil and Flemish charm. It’s what makes Bruges beautiful. Bruges’ loveliest places ooze even more charm when you admire them travelling by boat.
Ghent is between Brussels and Bruges and it’s 40 min drive from Brussels. While Bruges is more tranquil and touristy medieval town, Ghent is more vibrant, urban and less touristy city. I saw a lot of forums on the internet asking visiting either Bruges or Ghent and I personally recommend both for these different characteristics. And Ghent is also an university town so there are more young people relatively compared to Bruges.
There is a canal in Ghent as well but I think the canal in Bruges is more picturesque. Anyway, the main reason that I visited Ghent wasn’t for canal, it was for Ghent Altarpiece in St. Bavo’s Church.
When I was at the core of the Old Ghent, there was a performance where people dressing in traditional Flemish outfits doing historic roleplaying.
<Saint Bavo’s Cathedral>
Unlike dominant gray color in Köln dom, this cathedral has bright color scheme with marbles. The building is built on the site of the former Chapel of St. John the Baptist, a primarily wooden construction that was consecrated in 942 by Transmarus, Bishop of Tournai and Noyon. Traces of this original structure are evident in the cathedral’s crypt.The chapel was subsequently expanded in the Romanesque style in 1038. Some traces of this phase of expansion are still evident in the present day crypt. In the subsequent period from the 14th through 16th centuries, nearly continuous expansion projects in the Gothic style were executed on the structure. A new choir, radiating chapels, expansions of the transepts, a chapter house, nave aisles and a single tower western section were all added during this period. Construction was considered complete June 7, 1569.
Entering this cathedral is free, but if you want to see Altarpiece, you have to pay around five Euro including audioguide(I highly recommend audioguide). I’m sure there must be some people complaining it doesn’t worths that money. But considering that it has been the most stolen artwork, that’s the way compensating its rough history.
It’s almost been destroyed in a fire, was nearly burned by rioting Calvinists, it’s been forged, pillaged, dismembered, censored, stolen by Napoleon, hunted in the first world war, sold by a renegade cleric, then stolen repeatedly during the second world war, before being rescued by The Monuments Men, miners and a team of commando double-agents. The fact that it was the artwork the Nazis were most desperate to steal – Göring wanted it for his private collection, Hitler as the centrepiece of his citywide super-museum – has only increased its renown.
Ghent Altarpiece is the most stolen artwork in the world since it was painted by The Eyck brothers in 1432. It doesn’t look gigantic in the picture, but it is really huge if you get to see it. I was completely overwhelmed by the size at first. I wonder how people managed to steal this enormous altarpiece(11ft x 15ft (3.5m x 4.6m)). It is also amusing how symmetrical the altarpiece is.
Later, with listening to audioguide, I was marveled how complex and sophisticated the story presented in the altarpiece. Van Eyck brothers really tried hard to contain all the details of the story in the altarpiece. My memory on the story has been diminished but it worths reading it if you are a big fan of medieval art works.
I visited Bruges and Ghent in a day but I would like to stay either city longer if I have next opportunity( I had to go to Paris on the next day). I was in a rush so I felt I missed some nice other places to visit. So if you are reading this blog post, hope you have a chance to stay in those towns a little bit longer.