Bruges (Flemish Brugge, a name signifying the bridge or place of bridges), the capital of West Flanders, Belgium. Pop. (1904) 53,728. The city contains some of the finest monuments of the great period of the Flemish communes, while its medieval appearance is better preserved, as a whole, than in the case of any other Belgian city. The cathedral of St Sauveur and the church of Notre-Dame, both specimens of early Pointed Gothic, date from the 13th and 14th centuries. Both are full of interest, but the cathedral was much injured by fire in 1839. The interior, however, is finely proportioned and exhibits beautiful modern polychrome decorations, numerous pictures and interesting monumental brasses. The church of Notre-Dame contains a fine De Crayer (The Adoration of the Magi), Michelangelo's marble group of the Virgin and Child, and the fine monuments with gilded copper effigies of Charles the Bold and his daughter, Mary of Burgundy. The hospital of St Jean, where the sick have been cared for since the 12th century, contains the chief works of Memling, including the famous reliquary of St Ursula. The market-hall was built in 1561-1566 on the site of an older building, some portions of which were utilized in its successor.
The belfry which rises in the centre of the façade dates from the end of the 13th century; it has long been famous for its chime of bells, but the civic fathers have caused modern airs to be substituted for the old hymn. The hôtel de ville, the Chapelle du Saint-Sang and the church of St Jacques are all of interest. The first is Gothic and was begun about 1376. The second is a chapel of two storeys, the lower dating from 1150, while the upper was rebuilt in the 15th century, and there is a rich Flamboyant entrance with a stairway (1533). St Jacques' church is a foundation of the 13th century, but has extensive additions of the close of the 15th and 17th centuries. The Palais de Justice, of the 18th century, on the site of the House of the Franc - the outside burghers of the Franc district admitted to the full privileges of citizenship - contains a fine carved chimney-piece (1530). The house is supposed to have formed part of the residence of the counts of Flanders. There are numerous other buildings of minor antiquarian interest; the fine museum contains a representative gallery of early Flemish paintings; and of the old fortifications three gates remain.
The manufacture of lace now gives employment to at least 6000 persons in the town, and horticulture is carried on extensively in the suburbs. Commercial activity has been assisted by the new ship-canal to Zeebrugge, and by direct steamship service from Hull to Bruges. The steady growth of the population is evidence of increased prosperity. In 1880 the population was only 44,500, but it had risen in 1900 to 51,657 and in 1904 it was 53,728.
Bruges is said to have been a city in the 7th century, and the name Flanders was originally applied to it and not to the district. Baldwin II., count of Flanders, who married Elstrud, daughter of Alfred the Great, first fortified it, and made it his chief residence. Before the year 1180 Bruges was the recognized capital of Flanders, and the formality of proclaiming the new counts was always performed on the marché du vendredi, where the railway station is to-day. After 1180 the premier position was assumed by Ghent, but until access by sea was stopped by the silting up of the Zwyn, which was complete by the year 1490, Bruges was the equal in wealth and power of its neighbour. Proof of this is supplied by the marriage festivities in 1430, when Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, wedded Isabel of Portugal, and founded the famous order of the Golden Fleece out of compliment to the staple industry of Bruges. Bruges was at the height of its prosperity in the 14th century, when it was the northern counterpart of Venice and its Bourse regulated the rate of exchange in Europe.
(D. C. B.)