I was only disappointed that Simon wasn’t the guide to Bruges until the tour started with Mick. We were sitting across from each other on the train, so I learned he also used to be in finance and realized he wasn’t happy in the rat race. He’s a tour guide now and likes it much better – this passion for what he does came across in the many details he knew!
First, you see a building that was a hospital. We discussed the impact that the plague had on Europe. It’s difficult to imagine any advancement coming out of something so terrible, but the high volume of deaths had led to excess production and a high demand for labor to harvest that production. Peasants had greater economic prosperity (to the extent that the nobility passed laws to try to prevent them from dressing and seeming “noble.”
Bruges has two main squares and the first really shows the history of the city. First, you have the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which contains a “relic.”
The original church in the building was built in the dark ages. It’s so . . . appealing?
Which is a clear contrast to the section built after the crusaders went to the Holy Land and learned new building techniques allowing for plenty of light! As our guide said, “proof travel broadens the mind,” although ironic they learned so much from “primitive savages.”
There’s the gothic stadthouse, but even here you can see the older section isn’t very decorative, but the newer section is covered in statues.
Then, you move on to the Renaissance. Last, you see the Napoleonic Empire style.
Of course, across the square you find the a traditional Belgian Empire building. Mick pointed out that looking at Lady Liberty gives some idea of the justice system – are both eyes covered or just one, for example?
I also accidentally included part of Bruges in Brussels! This church and the history of art reflecting social change was Mick’s tour – oops! He also did a great job explaining how the hard sciences were born from the arts.
If the Brussels’ Stock Exchange could be considered “Wall Street 2.0,” this was 1.0. Back in the day, you could lose everything if the boat carrying your goods sunk. Somehow, the idea arose to sell “shares” and everyone shared in the loss or gain from a larger number of ships. Originally, the owners were only spreading the risk across themselves, but eventually, the ability to buy shares expanded. The original idea wasn’t to always gain, but to reduce risk by diversifying (still a good investment strategy). Yes, you’re reading it correctly – 1276.
In Bruges’ other square, stands a UNESCO world heritage site, which is the belfry (the whole center of Bruges is actually a UNESCO site). UNESCO states this is because they are “highly significant tokens of the winning of civil liberties.” They represented the growth of civil, non-religious power.
As we neared the end of the tour, we looked at a building that is a little controversial – it was built in a “gothic style,” but not true to the style because Bruges wanted the tallest brickwork tower. Of course, the Germans almost immediately added height to theirs and now they just have an inauthentic building (albeit the 2nd tallest in the world)!
And last, but not least, an early form of “feminism!” There was a movement of lay women (not nuns) who formed communities and lived with a significant amount of autonomy for the era. They funded their communities by making and selling lace and “virgin lace” was highly prized. This one of the walled communities they lived in.
While Bruges has a wonderful history, it was largely bypassed by the Industrial revolution and tourism is the primary industry of the city today. It’s certainly worth the visit to support the local economy!