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Brugge History, Belgium

Brugge History – Early Trade Development

The city is said to have gotten its name from the Old Norse “Bryggja”, which meant “landing spot”, due to the close trading relations between the Scandinavians and Brugge. Before that, it was a settlement of the Roman-Gaelic populations and the best fortified point on the Flemish coastal area.

The city grew very fast until the 12th century mainly due to its port activity, but in 1134 a very severe storm came and changed the coastal line. It formed the natural canal known as the Zwin that changed the priorities of Brugge, which soon became the most important fabricant of Flemish cloth.

Known for its highly advanced medieval urbanization, Brugge started producing a woolen material that was highly appreciated and exported throughout Europe. This activity could be safely done within the city walls, so at that time it had a population of about 40.000 inhabitants, which is twice as more as those who live in the historical area today.

Brugge History – The Banking Community

In the late 13th century, Brugge started establishing commercial relations to the Mediterranean, which opened the door for many new trading opportunities: spices were brought in from the Levant and soon the financial system started developing into one of the most sophisticated of its time. Real bankers were functioning in the city at that time: it was possible to open an account, transfer money and even pay with bank tickets.

The monetary system was so well organized that the merchants got very rich, creating a visible gap between the two social categories. The ordinary people started riots and the city began to fall apart under the multiple revolts, political unrest and epidemics. This lasted until the 15th century when Phillip the Good, duke of Normandy, came to Brugge and set his court here, in Brussels and in Lille, attracting a very vivid cultural scene. This is when the Flemish painters produced their most important works and when the first English book was printed.

Brugge History – The Dark Ages and the Late Revival

Brugge started declining after it separated from the Netherlands and lost all its privileges to Antwerp. Its prosperous maritime function was almost forgotten and efforts to keep the city alive through the lace industry were of little result. In the middle of the 19th century, Brugge became the poorest city in Belgium and the industrial revolution left the city almost untouched. However, by the end of the century Brugge became an attractive tourist destination for the English and the French, and it starred in the French novel “Bruges la Morte”, which suggested the mystery which the city constantly evoked. New and ambitious projects begun and the harbor Zeebrugge was built in 1907. The city also started taking advantage of its strong medieval inheritance and turning it into an important tourist destination.

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