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.
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?