The Historic Town of Brugge is testimony, over a long period, of a considerable exchange of influences on the development of architecture, particularly in brick Gothic, as well as favouring innovative artistic influences. It is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble, illustrating significant stages in the commercial and cultural fields in medieval Europe, of which the public, social and religious institutions are a living testimony. Brugge has conserved spatial and structural organizations that characterize its different phases of development, and the historic centre has continued covering exactly the same area as the perimeter of the old settlement. Still an active, living city, it has nevertheless preserved the architectural and urban structures that document the different phases of its development: as part of this continuity, the late 19th-century renovation of facades introduced a neo-Gothic style that is special for Brugge.
Criterion: (II)(IV) (VI)
Date of Inscription: 2000
Iron Age and the Gallo-Roman periodArchaeological excavations have shown evidence of human presence in the area of Brugge from the Iron Age and the Gallo-Roman period. It was the military and administrative centre of the region, and commercial links with Scandinavia started at the same time. The name of Brugge is first mentioned in the 9th century and is documented in Carolingian coins bearing the name Bruggia. At this time it was part of a defence system against the Normans, and the first fortification existed in 851 at the site of the present-day Bourg. The settlement developed gradually and it became a harbour and commercial centre with European connections.
The Brugge fair was established in 1200 and contacts with Britain were the first to develop, particularly related to wool. The growing prosperity of the city was reflected in the construction of public buildings, such as the imposing belfry in the Grand'Place, and Brugge was quickly established as an economic capital of Europe. Under Philippe le Bon (1419-67) Brugge became a centre of court life, as well as that of Flemish art, involving Jan van Eyck, who contributed to the development of the Flemish Primitive school of painting as well as exercising an influence on European art in general. At the same time it became the centre for miniature painting, and also for printing. Owing to the presence of Italians it soon became a centre of humanism and the Renaissance.
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From the late 15th century, Brugge gradually entered a period of stagnation. The Flemish regions were integrated into the Habsburg Empire, and the discovery of America displaced economic interests from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. However, from 1600 to 1800, as a result of the construction of canal systems, Brugge re-established its maritime connection, albeit only at a modest level. From 1815 to 1830 Brugge was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and since 1830 it has been part of Belgium. During the 19th century, a colony of English aristocrats influenced the cultural life of the city and contributed to a renewed interest in the artistic heritage of Brugge and the restoration of historic buildings.
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The most important of the squares are the Burg and the Grand'Place. For some 1,000 years the Burg square has remained the symbol of the alliance of religious and civic authorities, as well as the seat of several public institutions, including the dispensing of justice. The Grand'Place, on the other hand, is the site of the halls, the belfry and the Waterhalle, symbolizing municipal autonomy.
The architecture of Brugge, from the Middle Ages until modern times, is principally characterized by brick Gothic, and particularly by a style of construction known as travée brugeoise . This type of construction was well established in the early 16th century and, with some later variations, it was maintained until the 17th century. It also became the main inspiration for 19th-century restorations.