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Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country.
The historic city centre is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO.

Very few traces of human activity date from the Pre-Roman Gaul era. The first fortifications were built after Julius Caesar's conquest of the Menapii in the 1st century BC to protect the coastal area against pirates. The Franks took over the whole region from the Romans around the 4th century and administered it as the Pagus Flandrensis. The Viking incursions of the 9th century prompted Baldwin I, Count of Flanders to reinforce the Roman fortifications; trade soon resumed with England and Scandinavia. It is at around this time that coins appeared bearing for the first time the name Bryggia, a name that may have the same origin as Norway’s Bryggen.

Bruges got its city charter on July 27, 1128 and built itself new walls and canals. 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 thirteenth century. The city's entrepreneurs reached out to make economic colonies of England and Scotland's wool-producing districts. English contacts brought Normandy grain and Gascon wines. Hanseatic ships filled the harbor, which had to be expanded beyond Damme to Sluys to accommodate the new cog-ships. 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. This development opened not only the trade in spices from the Levant, but also advanced commercial and financial techniques and a flood of capital that soon took over the banking of Bruges. The Bourse opened in 1309 and developed into the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries in the fourteenth century. By the time Venetian galleys first appeared, in 1314, they were latecomers.

Such wealth gave rise to social upheavals, which were for the most part harshly contained. In 1302, however, the population joined forces with the Count of Flanders against the French, culminating in the victory at the Battle of the Golden Spurs, fought near Kortrijk on July 11. The statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, the leaders of the uprising, can still be seen on the Big Market square.

In the 15th century, Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy set up court in Bruges, as well as Brussels and Lille, attracting a number of artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe.

The new Flemish-school, oil-painting techniques gained world renown. The first book in English ever printed was published in Bruges by William Caxton. This is also the time when Edward IV and Richard III of England spent time in exile here. The population swelled to more than 40,000 inhabitants.

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 taken. During the 1650's the city was the base for the court of 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. George Rodenbach even named the sleepy city Bruges-la-Morte meaning "Bruges-the-dead". In the last half of the 19th century Bruges became one of the world's first tourist destinations attracting wealthy British and French tourists. Only in the second half of the twentieth 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 became 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.

Bruges

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Additional Photos by Oleg Kuznetsov (osub) Silver Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 28 W: 0 N: 264] (1663)
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