The historic city of Bruges

A couple months ago while on business in Brussels I decided to make a short trip to Bruges located North-West of the European capital in a couple kilometers distance from the English Channel. I visited this city once and remembered it as full of medieval architecture and many water channels. That time I did not enjoy it much as it was quite heavily raining the whole day. This time weather was just fine. So, I spent around four or five hours walking the streets of the historical medieval city of Bruges.

The area is told to be the biggest medieval city area preserved in Europe. First, it is to the fact that Bruges was one of the leading commercial centres in medieval Europe. Some historians even say that for some period the most important one. The city was simply very reach, or at least many of its inhabitants either locals or foreign ones were very affluent people. (The inequalities led once or twice to social unrest and political interventions). Secondly, because besides a few smaller events, the city was neither devastated by a bigger fire nor leveled to the ground by warfare.


JMA_Bruges_23


In general, it is true. But some additional explanation is needed here. The city was thriving in the early Middle Ages thanks to the tidal inlet that connected it with the sea. Its economic existence was however endangered as in the late XI and early XII century a gradual silting caused the city to lose its direct access to the sea. A storm in 1134 re-established the access through a natural channel. For years, Bruges was a thriving harbour connecting merchants from the North (England, Scandinavia), West (through Hanzeatic League) and South (Italian merchant cities, Spain, Portugal). Merchant or trading usances developed by the city authorities and the merchant guilds became the very basis of the modern exchange trading (>>>).

Around 1500 slitting closed the channel for good. The city lost its position and many affluent inhabitants to nearby Antwerp. A decline that lasted for almost four hundred years begun. Like other affluent cities of Northern Europe, Bruges was looted in times of the religious wars in the XVI century, French Revolution and Napoleonic wars in the late XVII and XIX centuries (>>>). Much furniture, stained glass, paintings and tapestries were destroyed or in later years sold to art dealers or antiquaries, who resold them internationally.


JMA_Bruges_05

JMA_Bruges_11


Bruges has the style of its own, and the buildings are for sure historical ones. However, early medieval Bruges besides some brick Gothic architecture was mainly a wooden city. Bruges, we can admire today, has in most parts brick facades with characteristic step gabbling. Only few wooden structures are preserved. Thus, in the years between Middle Ages and the present day the city was reconstructed. The wooden facades were replaced as they had been susceptible of fire. The interior construction of many houses is however still of the past ages. The medieval origins of the city are mostly well preserved in its street pattern, with main roads leading towards the important public squares and the network of canals once used for the mercantile traffic. Most buildings have retained the original parcels of land.

The actual revival of Bruges was a direct consequence of damage, and thievery that plagued the city in the XVIII and XIX centuries. The local community as well as many immigrants from England fought to stop the practice and engaged to revitalise the city. There is no sign of the revolutionary damage today. In fact, the city is very well taken care of. The ‘conservation movement’ prevented also conversion of the city style into more modern look as it happened for example in Brussels. Bruges seems also to have missed the XIX century industrial revolution. The old/modern facades are described as of Neo-Gothic style that is  specific for Bruges. The modern additions of XIX and XX centuries fit well the overall picture.

So, the historical city of Bruges is not that originally medieval as it is often claimed, but still it is one of the most interesting historical cities in Europe.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Index of posts on Benelux >>>

Mount St. Michel

Mount St. Michel and the St. Michel Abbey. Located in Normandy, one of the most famous European buildings. Being of interest as well for its unusual location on a tidal island. Or the other way round. The whole structure, the fortifications, the monastery, and the small village at its foot were erected there because of the unusual location. Hardly accessible at high tide the Mount St. Michel has a fleur of seclusion but simultaneously has always been a very well defendable spot.

jma_msm_000

The internet resources say there are around three million people visiting this place yearly. This means that on average around eight thousand people visit it on a daily basis. Supposing that the crowds are bigger in summer vacation months we quite easily get at more than ten thousands a day. As there is only one way in and out, currently a newly (2014) constructed bridge serviced by shuttle buses (from a parking place 2.5 km away) at the first sight you see the crowds. But the island consists of a small village with a couple of narrow streets, fortifications and many chambers or halls on different levels in the monastery itself. In the most parts you can move freely inside. I do not think you can get lost there, but still it seems bit like a maze. This is why, there are always people around you, but you do not feel the crowds like in other very famous spots in Europe.

jma_msm_024

jma_msm_025

For the most part the buildings of the Mont St. Michel are thousand year old, with many parts in a Roman style. But as through history much happened, the buildings were reconstructed and rebuild a couple of times, some other styles appear, too. From outside you may have the impression the structure is very coherent, but inside you can easily see the additions.

jma_msm_023

JMA_Mont_St_Michel_101

In the mid first millennium it is said there was some monastic life at this place (that time called Mont Tombe). But in 709 the Archangel Michael appeared to a bishop and asked him to build in this place a church in his name. For anybody, who sometimes travels Europe for sightseeing purposes this will not be the first time as he or she hears of a building erected for this saint or renamed with his name. jma_archangel_michaelTo explain shortly, St. Michael or Archangel Michael is a figure recognized in a number of religious systems. In Christianity he is one of archangels (usually three or seven, depending on the religion), probably the most important one. He is often presented with a sword as he is the commander of the God’s army or with a balance as he is the one, who decides a person’s fate after death sending them to heaven or hell. In the early ages the archangel was told to appear to people (important people) and ask them to build churches or monasteries in his name. Another prominent example of a famous building with this name is Castel Sant Angelo in Rome that originally was named in honour of the emperor Hadrian, but the name was changed to Sant Angelo as St. Michael appeared to one of the popes (>>>). On the picture a statue of Archangel Michael located on top of another famous church in Europe – the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris.

JMA_Mont_St_Michel_112

In the early years, for different reasons, much money was flowing into the monastery not only from pilgrims but also from nobility and princes living around. Even Rollo, the Viking pirate who raided Normandy and first devastated some of the original buildings, after his conversion to Christianity (>>>), took care of this place and financially supported the community. The monastery was thus a very affluent one, sponsoring some other communities devoted to St. Michael. The monks were no longer living the life of monks rather enjoying life than enduring the austerities of the monastic life. But all the good things end. A prince invited Benedictines to St. Michel and ordered resident monks to either leave the place or join the Benedictine order. Benedictines in turn was an order following fixed daily rules around prayer and work … (>>>). The monastic life returned to St. Michel.

With time some countries started to dissolve monasteries, the reformation wave came to the Western Europe, fewer and fewer monks stayed at St. Michel. The seclusion of this place was rediscovered by French kings, who used it as a prison. Primarily from the XV century it was only the part of the monastery, but later on during the French revolution and the Napoleonic times it was serving solely as a prison for political opponents, mainly priests and other clergy. In the late XIX the buildings were finally acknowledged as a historical monument. The prison was dissolved, all the damage repaired. The monastery life came back to this place only for a short period of time to commemorate the 1000 year anniversary of establishing the Benedictine community. Today, it is said that only 30-40 people, including a number of monks and nuns are residents to this place. But, as the island has its own hotel and restaurant base, also some other people may stay the night. But still it is few in comparison to the crowds, who visit this place on daytime and low tide.

 Below some other photographs of the monastery and the village.

Index of posts on France >>>

Inside the York Minster

York Minster is one of the largest Gothic Cathedrals in Europe. Its construction took over 250 years. The main works were completed in the late XVth century. Although huge and austere, its interiors seem to be very warm, with much light inside. The architecture inside is not coherent. It is a mixture of different architectural solutions and variety of details, all of course within the Gothic style.

The highlights are the main nave broken in two parts making the impression of getting lower at its end, 16 m high stained glass windows as well as the choir interior. Below some photo impressions.


York, England, September 2015


Index of posts on England >>>