1905-postcard-showing-cranenburg-houseexcelsior_series_11_no__51_albert_sugg_a_gand_ca__1905

1905-postcard-showing-cranenburg-houseexcelsior_series_11_no__51_albert_sugg_a_gand_ca__1905

By Wendy Hughes
The city of Bruges is the jewel of Flanders, and is well known for its lace-making and delicious chocolates, but it is also well worth taking the time to explore this medieval city by, and where better to start than at the Market Square. All Bruges’ most important roads run from the outskirts into the heart of the city just like the spokes of a wheel, so it’s fairly easy to get around. The square is around 100 metres in length and has a total area of about 100 hectare. In days gone by it was the venue for large festivals, tournaments and executions! Today it is the meeting place for the thousands of tourists, as well as the locals who flock to the city. If possible try to visit on market day, which is a Wednesday and soak in the atmosphere. The square was completely renovated in 1995 and what you see today is totally different to the days of the Counts of Flanders. Then there were many magnificent private residences on the square and from here the lords of ladies would watch the many events that were held in the square from their windows.
Dominating the square is the Belfry, an interesting typical medieval bell tower that is neither a church or Town Hall, but a symbol of freedom and wealth At the foot of the Belfry, in bronze, is a relief depiction of the building enabling the visually impaired to picture it in their mind’s eye. Beside it is a Braille text, in four languages, along with a map of the town with the street names also in Braille. The lower section of the Belfry is 13th century and a second section was added in the 14th century, with the octagonal section accommodating the carillon added in the 15th century. The tower stands at 83 m ( 272 feet) high, and leans about a metre (3ft) to the east. For a small fee visitors who have no mobility issues can climb the 366 steps from the spiral entrance at the foot of the Belfry to the upper viewing platform. Here they are treated to a breathtaking view of the old town with in canals. On a fine day you can see the coast some 12 km away. This towering monument provided the perfect outlook for enemy invasion and from here the people could look out for fires or any dangers. Unfortunately there is no lift for those who cannot climb the steps.

statue-of-jan-breydel-_pieter-de-coninck-market-square-_bruges

statue-of-jan-breydel-_pieter-de-coninck-market-square-_bruges

In the 16th century the tower received a carillon allowing the bells to be played by means of a hand keyboard, and from 1604, the annual accounts record the employment of a carilloneur to play songs during Sundays, holidays and market days. In 1675 the carillon comprised of 35 bells, designed by Melchior de Haze of Antwerp, but after a fire in 1741 this was replaced by a set of bells cast by Joris Dumery, and 26 of these are still in use today. By the end of the 19th century there were 48 bells at the end of the 19th century, but today the bells number 47, and weigh in at 27000kg. It keeps excellent time and plays a different melody every quarter of an hour, but it is switched off between 9pm and 7am, so the locals and tourists are not deprived of their sleep. The bells in the tower have always regulated the lives of the city dwellers, announcing the time, fire alarms, work hours, and a
variety of social, political, and religious events. Eventually a mechanism ensured the
regular sounding of certain bells, for example indicating the hour.
In the middle section of the tower, on the 220th step you will see the Victory Bell
weighing 5200kg, but the bell only rings on special occasions, national holidays and
during the Procession of the Holy Blood and when FC Bruges wins the Belgian
football championship!

bouchoute-house-markt-suare

bouchoute-house-markt-suare

To the sides and back of the tower stands the former market hall, a rectangular
building only 44 m broad but 84m deep, with an inner courtyard. The belfry,
accordingly, is also known as the Halletoren (tower of the halls). This building
featured in the 2008 film ‘In Bruges’ staring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as
two Irish hitman in hiding with Ralph Fiennes as their boss. It is also mentioned in
the novel Cloud Atlas by British author David Mitchell consisting of six stories that
take the reader from the remote South Pacific in the 19th century to a post
apocalyptic future.
A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow titled “The Belfry of Bruges,” refers to the
building’s checkered history:
In the market-place of Bruges stands the belfry old and brown;
Thrice consumed and thrice rebuilded, still it watches o’er the town.
The Square was the hub of activity until the 18th century with canals running
alongside where goods were loaded and unloaded from the Waterhalle, a covered
warehouse, but when Antwerp became the new economic town of the Lower
Countries Bruge lost its importance as a trading port. Finally, in 1787, the Waterhalle
was demolished and replaced with the elegant Provincial Palace, located on the left
hand side of the square. This neo-gothic building is the official residence of the
governor of West Flanders, and permanent representative of the king. The interior,
stained glass windows and the ironwork of the palace was decorated by renowned
artist of the day

providtial-house-market-square

providtial-house-market-square

In the middle of the market square stands a statue of Jan Breydel, a trade butcher
and Pieter de Coninck, a weaver, two freedom heroes from Flanders’ past, who
played a major role in leading an uprising against French oppression and
consequently played an important part during the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302.
The statue was erected in 1887 and due to the friction between the pro-Flemish
Breydel Committee and the French-speaking city, the statue was inaugurated twice:
on 11 July 1887 and between 14 and 22 August 1887. Sadly these days, young
locals seem to like congregating around the base of the statues, something
On the right hand side facing the Belfry is Cranenburg House situated midway on the
corner and now a cafe. It was here in 1488 the Emperor Maximilian of Austrian was
incarcerated and forced to watch several of his loyal liegemen being publicly
executed.
To the left of Cranenburg House, on the opposite corner you will catch a glimpse of
the impressive brick facade of the 15th century Bouchoute House, which the oldest
building on the square and was once the home of Charles II of England during his
part exile in 1656-7.
Adjacent to Market Square is Castle Square (or Burg), which was the former location
of the first count’s castle, built to defend against the invasions of the Vikings. As such
it was the military, administrative and judicial centre of Bruges and played an
important role during many centuries. The St. Donaas cathedral formed the religious
part of Castle Square, until it was demolished in 1800 under French occupation and
today the Holiday Inn Crowne Hotel is located on the grounds of the former
cathedral.
Striking buildings on Castle Square are: the Basilica of the Holy Blood, Bruges’ City
Hall, and The Chambers (or Oude Griffie). All these building are located adjacent to
each other on one side of Castle Square. Convenient is the presence of a number of
benches alongside the borders of the square, where you can take a rest, have a
snack or drink, and admire the facades of the building, but I shall leave these for
another article.

About Wendy Hughes

Wendy turned to writing, in 1989, when ill-health and poor vision forced her into early medical retirement. Since then she has published 26 nonfiction books, and over 2000 articles. Her work has appeared in magazines as diverse as The Lady, Funeral Service Journal, On the Road, 3rd Stone, Celtic Connections, Best of British, and Guiding magazine. She has a column in an America/Welsh newspaper for ex-pats on old traditions and customs in Wales. Her books include many on her native Wales, Anglesey Past and Present, The Story of Brecknock, Brecon, a pictorial History of the Town, Carmarthen, a History and Celebration and Tales of Old Glamorgan, and a book on Walton on Thames in the Images of England series, a company history and two books on the charity Hope Romania. She has also co-authored two story/activity books for children. Her latest books are: Haunted Worthing published in October 2010, a new colour edition of The Story of Pembrokeshire published in March 2011, and Shipwrecks of Sussex in June 2011 and Not a Guide to Worthing in 2014. She is working on a book entitled A-Z of Curious Sussex which will be published in 2016 Wendy also works with clients to bring their work up to publishable standard and is currently working on an autobiography with a lady that was married to a very famous 1940’s travel writer. Wendy has spent many years campaigning and writing on behalf of people affected by Stickler Syndrome, a progressive genetic connective tissue disorder from which she herself suffers. She founded the Stickler Syndrome Support Group and raises awareness of the condition amongst the medical profession, and produces the group’s literature, and has written the only book on the condition, Stickler The Elusive Syndrome, and has also contributed to a DVD on the condition, Stickler syndrome: Learning the Facts. She has also writing three novels, Sanctimonious Sin, a three generation saga set in Wales at the turn of the century, Power That Heal set in the Neolithic period entitled Powers that Heal, and a semi biographical book entitled New Beginnings which deals with two generations coping with blindness and a genetic condition. She has also had a handful of short stories published, and in her spare time is working on several at the moment. She also gives talks on a variety of subjects including Writing and Placing Articles, Writing Local History, Writing as Therapy, Writing your first novel, etc, and runs workshops on the craft of writing – both fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and a member of the Society of Authors.