Historic Centre of Brugge

N51 12 32.076 E3 13 30.972
Date of Inscription: 2000
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(vi)
Property : 410 ha
Buffer zone: 168 ha
Ref: 996

Brugge is an outstanding example of a medieval historic settlement, which has maintained its historic fabric as this has evolved over the centuries, and where original Gothic constructions form part of the town’s identity. As one of the commercial and cultural capitals of Europe, Brugge developed cultural links to different parts of the world. It is closely associated with the school of Flemish Primitive painting.

The Historic Centre of Brugge is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble, illustrating significant stages in the commercial and cultural fields in medieval Europe.

Brugge in medieval times was known as a commercial metropolis in the heart of Europe.

The city reflects a considerable exchange of influences on the development of art and architecture, particularly in brick Gothic, which is characteristic of northern Europe and the Baltic. This architecture strongly determines the character of the historic centre of the city.

The 1th century city walls marked the boundaries of the medieval city. Although the walls themselves are lost today, they remain clearly visible, emphasized by the four surviving gates, the ramparts and one of the defence water towers. The medieval street pattern, with main roads leading towards the important public squares, has mostly been preserved, as well as the network of canals which, once used for mercantile traffic, played an important role in the development of the city.

In the 15th century, Brugge was the cradle of the Flemish Primitives and a centre of patronage and painting development for artists such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling. Many of their works were exported and influenced painting styles all over Europe. Exceptionally important collections have remained in the city until today.

Even after its economic and artistic peak at the end of the Middle Ages, building and urban development continued, although Brugge mostly missed the 19th-century industrial revolution. In the 18th and 19th centuries, many medieval parcels were joined to larger entities and new quarters were also developed. The most striking examples of large scale post-medieval interventions in the historic centre are the urbanization around Coupure (1751-1755), the Zand and the first railway station (1838), the Theatre quarter (1867), the Koningin Elisabethlaan and Gulden Vlieslaan (1897) and the creation of the Guido Gezelle-neighbourhood (1920-1930).

In the second half of the 20th century, some major changes occurred with Zilverpand (1976), the new Public Library (1975-1978), the new Palace of Justice and Kartuizerswijk (1980), Clarendam (1990) and Colettijnenhof (1997).

Brugge is characterized by a continuity reflected in the relative harmony of changes. As part of this continuity, the late 19th century renovation of facades introduced a Neo-Gothic style that is particular for Brugge. The Brugge ‘neo’ style of construction and its restoration philosophy became a subject of interest, study and inspiration.

Still an active, living city today, Brugge has preserved the architectural and urban structures which document the different phases of its development including the central Market Place with its belfry, the Béguinage, as well as the hospitals, the religious and commercial complexes and the historic urban fabric. 

Criterion (ii): The Historic Centre of Brugge bears testimony to a considerable exchange of influences on the development of architecture, and particularly brick Gothic architecture, over a long period of time. As the birthplace of the school of the Flemish Primitives, it has favoured innovative artistic influences in the development of medieval painting.

Criterion (iv): The Historic Centre of Brugge is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble. The city’s public, social and religious institutions illustrate significant stages in the history of commerce and culture in medieval Europe

Criterion (vi): The Historic Centre of Brugge was birthplace of the Flemish Primitives and a centre of patronage and development of painting in the Middle Ages with artists such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling. 

Suggested Base:

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8 replies »

  1. Bruges is extremely popular with day trip visitors from the surrounding cities, especially at weekends, so we recommend staying at least one night to truly experience its magic. We love the Hotel Acacia, located next to the main square, with its resident parrot, Coco, who greets guests upon arrival at the hotel! Beautiful in every season, Bruges is extra special during the winter when it is home to one of the best Christmas markets in Europe and the Old Town transforms into a festive wonderland complete with a Christmas village in the town square. Packed with everything festive from delicious food to mulled wine, unique chocolate souvenirs and ice skating under the shadow of the Belfry Tower, the Bruges Christmas market is definitely one not to miss. Evenings spent wandering through the twinkling Old Town eating, drinking and skating are some of our most magical memories. Don’t forget, it can get chilly in between all those mulled wines and hot chocolates – winter in Europe requires wrapping up warmly and we always pack a cosy warm scarf to keep the cold winter air at bay!


  2. Visitors to Bruges feel like they’ve stepped way back in time. In fact, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre because of its unique architecture and history. We absolutely loved wandering up and down the city streets and looking inside the old churches. The whole family also sat down to have a traditional Flemish meal. I had a dish of creamy chicken and potatoes (waterzoii). Others opted for seafood appetizers, stew and apple tarts for dessert.


  3. Bruges has been described as a medieval fairy tale, little Amsterdam, medieval New York, Venice of the North… the list goes on. And while I can see the resemblance with Amsterdam, Bruges is medieval in a way Amsterdam just isn’t. It really is like nowhere else: the narrow houses with tall, pointed gables, the spiked turrets… Gothic! And on the other hand, colourful: ruby reds, pale blues, deep oranges, sunny yellows, soft pinks. One of my fave spots in Bruges is Minnewaterpark with Love Lake and Lovers’ Bridge.


  4. Some things to see I like are Grand Place; Place du Bourg; the palace of the dukes of Burgundy, and the Maison-Dieu from the 14C. The town has numerous museums and have been to a few; some of the ones I like are the Belfort or bell tower at a height of 83 meters and a structure of 47 bells. the gate of Gentpoort one of the four gates of the medieval town; the city hall (stadhuis) from 1376. The windmill of Koelewei from 1765 now near the gate of Damme since 1996; museum of arts and popular traditions housed in 8 maison dieu of the 17C; , Museum Groeninge; Flemish paintings from the 15C to our days; Palace of the franks de Bruges (Paleis van het Brugse Vrije) there were a council managing the region around the town and now houses the archives and in the renaissance room there is a monumental chimney of the 16C. And the Gruuthusemuseum is a museum of applied arts in Bruges, located in the medieval Gruuthuse, the house of Louis de Gruuthuse. The collection ranges from the 15-19C.


  5. There is so much sight-seeing to do. Bruges is a smorgasbord of medieval buildings; approach from the rail station and the first thing(s) you notice are three lofty spires – the already-mentioned Belfry, the magnificent St Saviour Cathedral, and the biggest and the best… the Welcome Church of our Lady.


  6. I wanted a much more engaging journey into Bruges’ history so I went to the Historium located opposite the Belfry. It was cleverly designed and constructed and in a moment I was transported back to medieval Bruges. I walked around the harbour, eavesdropped on conversations, visited ancient bathhouses and laughed at some of the bawdy language. There were recreations and clips taking me through a storyline interwoven with history.


  7. Bruges is a small town and completely walkable on foot, but it’s also very bike-friendly (with no hills to navigate) and you can rent great city bikes to amble about on. For a truly memorable Bruges vista head for the city gates, which are right on the canal with four beautiful windmills dotted around them.


  8. We had a great time, the city is fascinating with a lot of little side streets and a lot history. We enjoyed tasting chocolate in some of the many chocolate stores, we also found a great restaurant on a side street so narrow that cars could not use it.


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