June 16, 2014- As spread out as the green space and quiet neighbourhoods of Brugge are- its city centre, Centrum,is dense and compact. I had lunch in a small cafe, featuring American-style fare. Thus, in the midst of a medieval burgh, I sat and enjoyed a Philly Cheese Steak. Hey, at least the fries came with mayonnaise- a true Low Countries tradition.
Each city-state in the Flanders, and Holland, of the 12th-15th centuries was a self-contained unit. Some, like Brugge and Ghent, would freely associate on some matters, but were just as likely to squabble. This was the lot of most of Europe, at that time, with only a few nations, like France, England and Denmark making an actual go of cohesiveness. Those nations, though, were constantly at war with one another. The city-states had one mission: Make a bundle, and fast. So, Stadt Huisen (State Houses) sprang up, wherein the Counts and Dukes who ruled the city states, and the burghers who cashed in on the products coming through the city, could conduct their business. Below, we see the Stadthuis of Brugge.
Draft horses pull cartloads of visitors through the Centrum, now as in the Middle Ages.
Brugge’s Belfort is now the city’s Historical Museum. In the city-state’s heyday, it was a belfry and a fort.
Next to Belfort is the Bourse.
Next to the Bourse, on the other side, is Historium, a multimedia presentation on medieval life in Brugge, using the process pursued by Jan van Eyck to complete a painting, as an example of a transaction. Art in Europe, as many are aware, was a matter of great financial import. Artists survived only through the largesse of wealthy patrons. They hired several young men to act as couriers and procurers of supplies. Thus, Van Eyck hired “Jacob”, whose hapless search for a certain green parrot, and a girl named “Anna”, to serve as a model for the Madonna in Van Eyck’s painting, plays out over several minutes. Thugs try to steal Van Eyck’s supplies, Jacob is threatened with dismissal, and the streets of Brugge are full of drama. I will let you guess how all turned out, but here are some photos of Historium.
First, we meet “Jacob’.
He shows us the items he had to procure, besides the parrot and Anna.
We get parrot’s eye views of the Centrum.
Here is Anna’s cape.
As luck would have it, Van Eyck stages a painting party.
It appears the patron is pleased.
Some of my fellow travelers that day were definitely pleased. A class of high school students put on a delightful, impromptu dance, in the Centrum. Youth were a recurring source of joy, wherever they turned up during my journey.
I was getting close to departing for Ghent, but got a couple of last-minute shots. Here is the Duke’s Palace.
Lastly, I got a view of Sint-Salvatorskathedral. This would bring me back to Brugge, another year.
My all-too-brief visit here left me with a good appreciation of why the Flemish are loath to go it alone as mini-country. These hard-working people have seen, first-hand, the drawbacks of the city-state and the small duchy. Belgium, the nation, seems a much better proposition. I left Brugge genuinely liking the Flemish, a feeling that would only be augmented by my time in Ghent.
An interesting contrast with the French! I’m reminded of Vermeer and Girl with the Pearl Earring. Lovely old-town style seems to have been well retained.
I looked for Vermeer’s work, while in the Old Masters Collection in Brussels. I didn’t find the Girl, but there were a couple of his works there.