Legends of Bruges – 3

Continuing our journey of the history of Bruges, there was a time about seven hundred years ago when there were 1600 bars and 700 breweries in this city! I don’t know if that tells about the richness of the city or the decline that it was about to see. People had begun chasing pigs and chicken, such was the inebriation. So the city people felt that the city needed a mental hospital. For that, they needed the grant from the king. But how to change Mad Max to Happy Max (remember Maximilian from part 2?). They invited him for a party so that they could appease him. He did come and played along. And as soon as he showed sign of a smile coming on his face, the council saw their chance and asked for the grant to make a mental hospital. Now the king laughed out loud and said that when all the people were mental there, the city could just close the city gates and it would become the mental hospital they needed! Long story short, the king didn’t grant their request. The city was getting poorer and poorer and those who could not afford alcohol, they started resorting to rotten fruits to get the fermented juice that would satiate their addiction! And over time, the bars and breweries started getting closed due to lack of money. The last remaining brewery from those times is called “Bruges Zot” (zot = fool).

One other thing that the city had were the luxurious public baths which doubled up as meeting place for the visiting traders. So as it happens in such places, world’s oldest trade found itself growing in the lanes where the stoves were put for heating the water for the baths. The city turned a blind eye towards it for who cared as long as the traders that brought wealth to the city were kept happy.

Moving further, the guide showed us the tower in the Church of our Lady, which is supposedly the second tallest brickwork tower. The church itself dates back to the 13th – 15th century time frame.church-of-our-lady

The legends of the city are incomplete without the mention of the statue of Madonna and Child by Michael Angelo that is located in the above mentioned church. It was once taken away by the French revolutionaries in 1794 but was returned when Napoleon was defeated in the battle of Waterloo in 1815. It was removed from here a second time by the Nazi soldiers in 1944. But was found a year later in Austria and returned back. This second recovery is part of the story of the movie The Monuments Men. It’s quite interesting how the statue made its way back to the church – some might even call it a miracle, for how often in history has anything that was looted been returned to its original place and on top of that – how often has it happened twice?

The next and the last legend that I wanted to write about was the one connected with the Basilica of the Holy Blood which is supposed to hold a relic – the blood of Jesus! Now there is a street in Bruges called Blinde Ezelstraat or Blind Donkey Alley. Let’s find the connection between the church and the strangely named street.


There is an annual procession from that church when the relic is taken out and people get quite absorbed in the festivities. In 1382, Ghent chose that day to attack the drunk Bruggians  to get the Golden Dragon statue from the old cathedral (*one story say that the Bruggians had stolen it from Ghent and the people from Ghent came to get it back). Whatever the reason, the outcome was that the drunk Bruggians couldn’t defend their city and the statue. However, when the Ghents tried to take it in a cart pulled by a Bruggian donkey, it stopped at the gates and wouldn’t move further from there. After all the hitting, kicking, coaxing and whatever is done to make a donkey move, someone came up with the idea that if the donkey couldn’t see where it was going, then it would move.So they blinded/blindfolded the donkey (I hope the latter) and then the donkey moved. Thus was born the legend of the name of the street and the gate.

With this story, I would end the series although there are so many more that I could tell you but may be for some other time. My  personal legend is that I drowned myself in the pleasure of chocolates at a Chocolaterie recommended by the tour guide, at the end of the tour. A fitting end to the tour of a wonderful city – won’t you say?


Legends of Bruges – 2

While you are walking in the streets of an ancient city like Bruges, and listening to the stories from a local, it gives a very mysterious feel to the whole scenery. Let your imagination loose and you can even see the people playing their parts in the stories being told. And a few weeks later, when you want to write about it, that imagination is what helps you a bit.

So now, to part 2 of the legends. As you may remember, we had stopped in the last post at the Order of the Golden Fleece.


Moving ahead from there, we reached the St. John’s hospital (Sint Jan) which is a 12th century building and hence, one of the oldest hospital buildings that still exists! It was in use as a hospital up until 1978, which speaks volumes about the structure and efficiency of that hospital.

Then we reached a place called the Beguinage.


I had no idea before being in Bruges that in around 12th century, there was a whole new order where women could live like nuns but without having to take the religious oath. Such women were called the Beguines. They didn’t get married as long as they lived as Beguines and were free to leave if they wished to. They were allowed to have wealth too. The interesting thing was that the Beguinage was completely self-sufficient – it didn’t require any funding! Since they wanted to live by themselves, and not be in contact with the others, they even had their own road, for going to places in the city, which the commoners could not use. What is more interesting is that the rules of the city didn’t apply inside the Beguinage. So it was like a sanctuary. If some convict (rightly/wrongly accused) escaped and managed to get inside the Beguinage – then he was safe from punishment.Looking at the place, it felt so calm and nice there and I could actually see the Beguines in my mind walking around.

Walking further, we reached the place which had lots of swans around.


In Europe, I see swans in most of the places but here in Bruges, there was a story behind the presence of the swans. It has a connection with what happened in a house in the city center. Intrigued? Towards the end of the 15th century, the people of Bruges revolted against the Emperor Maximilian of Austria. They captured Maximilian and imprisoned him in the Craenenburg House on the Market Square, together with his friend/adviser, Pieter Lanckhals.


The adviser was executed and Maximilian was forced to watch the execution from the house where he was imprisoned. The Emperor was released when he agreed to reduce the taxes but he later took his revenge by ordering the city that ‘until the end of time’ the city should be required at its own expense to keep swans on all its lakes and canals. Why swans? Because swans have long necks – and the Dutch for ‘long neck’ is ‘lange hals’ – or ‘lanckhals’!  Grim story but interesting end result. The revenge was even more severe than that as the Emperor moved the trade away from Bruges to Antwerp, which led Bruges into a decline that lasted from 16th century up until the later half of the 20th century. So much so that the city missed the renaissance and all the other new things that happened in that time frame and the Gothic architecture remained largely intact there like in a museum of time…

Legends of Bruges – 1

One morning when the summer was waning and autumn was rising in the Northern hemisphere, I went to Bruges (pronounced something like Broozsh), with a friend of mine. It was a spontaneous decision to go there, taken just on the previous evening, after having spent the day in Brussels. We were deliberating between Bruges and Ghent and then decided for Bruges.
Now Bruges has had human settlements since pre-historic times but it’s official mention as Bruggas is in the 9th century. It became a very important place of commerce due to it’s connection with the sea. For more details you can refer to Wikipedia. In this post, I will tell you about what is not there on Wikipedia, all that I learnt on taking a walking tour of the city with Nick :-).

So we started the tour from the center of the city in front of the statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, the leaders of a violent uprising against the French in 1302. The interesting part is who they were and how and what they did. Jan Breydel was a butcher and Pieter de Connick was a weaver. The local Flemish population was fed up of the French imposing themselves and their exorbitant taxes on them. So one Sunday morning, Jan and Pieter decided to do something about it. They went from door to door and when the door was opened, they greeted the owner with “Goeije morn”. If the owner didn’t pronounce it the way it is in Flemish, Jan and Pieter understood it was a French person and they immediately killed them. This way they killed almost all of the French population in the city in one morning (Bruges Matins). There were repercussions later of course, but the two thus, became heroes of the Flanders region and are still remembered as patriots of Belgium.


The second stop was at the main church Sint Salvator’s cathedral. The legend goes that there was once a weaver who was wrongly accused of killing a merchant. He was thrown into the jail. But then one night, Baby Jesus came in his dream and gave him a letter that said that he was innocent. He woke up and found the letter beside him. That got him acquitted. So as a gratitude offering, he and his family commissioned an art work for the church. It shows Mary and Jesus with an ink-pot!mary-inkpot


Then after some more walking around and learning some other things, we reached a palatial mansion. It belonged to a spice merchant who had quite a monopoly on the spice trade. Luis of Groot Haus (Great House) became a friend of the Duke of Burgundy – Philipp the Good. The Duke initiated him into the Order of the Golden Fleece which was created actually for the a chosen set of knights. The members are above the regular laws of the land somehow and cannot be tried in a regular court as far as I understood Nick. I was most surprised at hearing the name of Nikolas Sarkozy as a member of the order! But then so was the wife-killing crazy king Henry the VIII of England. The symbol of the order is a sheepskin suspended from a jeweled collar and each member wears it as a necklace. This symbol can still be seen on the top of the entrance of that house of the spice merchant. The Emperor of Japan lost it in a hotel in Madrid. I wonder who is using the symbol now and for what!


Hope you enjoyed the first part of the legends of Bruges. Stay tuned for more.


Delicious Bruges

What would be better in a new city than to be in a cozy little home which also happens to be a lovely restaurant run by a beautiful couple? We reached this beautiful city Bruges at around 10 am after a train journey from Brussels, and were feeling super hungry. There were of course lots of restaurants around offering different delicacies – but none of which suited my ovo-lacto vegetarian, gluten-free diet.

Found this lovely place called “Delicious Bruges” (aptly named) accidentally and asked them if they had eggs on the menu. They didn’t but before I could get disappointed, they told me they will make whatever I wanted. So voila, I had my scrumptious omelette with onions and mushrooms along with a cup of chocolate sprinkled coffee.


Their seating area was one floor up and it was so cozy there with lovely black and white photos of the city on the walls. We chose a table overlooking the narrow street with tourists going in horse-driven carriages or by foot.

In some time, one little girl in a pink dress came down from the floor above, obviously the owner’s daughter. A few minutes later another one came too. Then they both ran into the street with their dad (the owner of the restaurant) seemingly telling them to be careful.

It all seemed so normal except that it was in this beautiful touristy city.