In 2008, I saw the Colin Farrell-starrer ‘In Bruges”, a crime/action drama about a hired assassin who escaped to the outskirts of Belgium, in order to lie-low and hide from his mortal sin. It was a gripping tale, for sure, but the backdrop city of Bruges stood out and captivated me so much so that when the opportunity came, I immediately took the two-hour train ride from Brussels to the city, even without prior plans.
As a city I have dreamed of visiting for the past years, I had high expectations with the city. On my very first hour in Bruges, all these expectations had been met and far exceeded by the city and everything it has to offer. It was love at first sight.
As the capital and largest city of West Flanders, Bruges is a historic city centre and it has been declared as a world famous UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the well-preserved Gothic and neo-Gothic buildings, churches and other establishments.
One of these is the Belfry, which dominates the landscape of Bruges’ market square. It was a central part of the 2008 movie. But even before that, the belfry has already been the most visited and photographed landmark in the historic city because of impressive medieval architecture.
Built in the 13th century, the belfry has been an important observation spot to watch out for fires during the medieval period. It formerly housed a treasury and archives in the past. Nowadays, it accommodates throngs of visitors who flock from nearby Brussels. Most of these travelers pay the required fee to climb the 366 steps leading to the large bells.
I attempted to climb the steps but midway the trip, my legs tried to give up. But for the sake of the experience, I persevered and soldiered on to the top.
Once there, visitors get a stunning view of the Bruges skyline. Immediately below them lies the lively market square edges by historical buildings, open air restaurants, souvenir shops and museums.
At the center of this city square is the all important monument to Pieter De Coninck and Jan Breydel who led to the Bruges uprising that led to the Battle of the Golden Spurs in the early 14th century. It was a bloody revolt that saw many Frenchmen killed in the Flemish city.
All around the square, you will horse-drawn carriages and rolling carts selling waffles, arguably the most famous food associated with Belgium. This particular spot is long considered as the main nerve of everyday life in Bruge. So I guess, I can be forgiven if I spent a few hours just walking around and watching people go about their usual routines.
Another highlight of Bruges I really enjoyed is the dramatic Basilica of the Holy Blood in Burg square which houses drops of Jesus Christ’s blood.
Some stories say that after the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped drops of blood from Jesus Christ’s body of Christ and preserved them. The preserved blood was kept in Jerusalem until the Second Crusade. It was then gifted by the King of Jerusalem to his brother in law Count of Flanders Diederik van de Elzas, who in turn transported it to Bruges in April 1150. Other stories meanwhile place the origin of the holy blood in Constantinople. The relic was supposedly stolen by the Crusader army and brought to Bruges.
The altar of the Basilica of the Holy Blood
No matter which way, the blood arrived in the city, it remains one of the most important holy relics in the world. Because of its importance, the blood is rarely showed to public.
I was fortunate enough though to chance upon it during my visit. Seeing it was a very religious experience. The walls and glass stained windows of the church all of which depict stories of how the blood arrived in Bruges, add to the unreal experience.
The church, its walls and windows all date back to the early 13th century.
On top of the historical and holy buildings in the city, Bruges is famous for its beautiful canals. Not a few times, Bruges has been called the Amsterdam of the North due to the similarities of the city’s canals to those seen in the Dutch capital.
The clean canals reflect 13th century houses made of bricks, and buildings sporting Gothic and neo-Gothic styles.
All around the city, you can find chocolates shops and souvenir stores that cater primarily to the visiting crowds. Bruges is also famous for its artisan beers. Enter any pub in the city and you can be guaranteed to enjoy a specialty crew you wont find anywhere else in Europe. Needless to say, I partook in some mild brews, as any decent visitor should do.
As is common in most European cities, there are no skyscrapers in Bruges. The belfry is already the tallest structure, and that’s okay. The simplicity and the rustic feel of the city only adds to its charms and feel.
I arrived in the city as a curious traveler. I left it, as a devoted fan and lover.
Bruges is so picturesque that you won’t help but shoots picture after picture. But to best enjoy this historic city, spend a whole day admiring its old buildings and beautiful canals.
It would be an experience you won’t be able to forget.