Bruges (Flemish, Brugge), a city of Belgium, capital of the province of West Flanders, situated about 8 m. from the North sea, with which it is connected by the canals of Ostend, Ghent, and Sluis, and 55 m. N. W. of Brussels; pop. in 1869, 47,621, of whom 15,000 were paupers. It has spacious docks and excellent quays. The shipowners of Bruges are engaged principally in fishing and coasting. Lace is the most important branch of manufacture, and there are also manufactories of linen, cotton, and woollen goods, of soap, leather, tobacco, and porcelain. The town presents a quaint aspect, contains about 200 streets, 9 public squares, 54 bridges (which give it its name), and several beautiful fountains. The church of Notre Dame, with a sculptured Virgin and child, erroneously ascribed to Michel Angelo, and a spire 442 ft. high, the cathedral of St. Saviour, and the hospital of St. John are remarkable for the works of art which they contain. The belfry tower in the great square is 290 ft. high, and its celebrated chimes sound at every hour.
The other public buildings are the h6tel de ville, containing a public library, the hall of justice, and the prinsenhof, the ancient palace of the counts of Flanders. Bruges has a flourishing free academy of fine arts, a botanical garden, museum, theatre, an agricultural society, an exchange, a commercial and other tribunals, a gymnasium, and a remarkably large number of charitable institutions. The corporation of weavers of Bruges was celebrated in the time of Charlemagne. From the 9th century till the middle of the 14th the town was under the sway of the counts of Flanders, and reached the height of its prosperity in the 15th century, after having passed under the dominion of the dukes of Burgundy. Factories were established here by merchants from 17 states, and 20 foreign ministers were accredited to its magistrates. In 1430 Philip the Good instituted the order of the golden fleece in honor of the prosperity of the woollen trade of the town. Bruges was then one of the great commercial emporiums of the world, the central mart of the Hanseatic league, and the chief resort for English, Lombard, and Venetian merchants. It had a large share of the commerce of the globe, while its manufactures, especially in tapestry, excelled all others.
Hans Memling and the brothers Van Eyck practised their art there. This great prosperity, however, engendered extravagant habits in dress and social life to such an extent that Charles V. was obliged to pass stringent sumptuary laws. The dominion of the house of Hapsburg proved fatal to the prosperity of the town. The citizens, who had always been noted for the jealous care with which they guarded their privileges, imprisoned their first sovereign of that house, the archduke Maximilian, for violating them; and to punish the town the trade was transferred to Antwerp, and its ruin was consummated by the persecutions of the duke of Alva in the latter part of the 16th century, when many of the inhabitants fled to England. The town was on two occasions the asylum of English kings: once when Edward IV. fled from England, and again during the exile of Charles II., the latter inhabiting a house which still stands on the south side of the great square, at the corner of the rue St. Amand, bearing the sign, Au lion oelge.
Belfry of Bruges.
Interior of Town Hall.