Picture: market square of Bruges
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Good wine doesn't need a crown. There is no place in Belgim where so many remains of Middle Ages can be found as in Bruges. The history of Damme has always been closely related to the history of Bruges. Together they knew their times of glory, which made them infamous all over the known world. But they also went down together when the Zwin silted up and seaships could no longer reach Bruges or one of her ports.
Bruges said to have originated from a Gallo-Roman settlement some 2000 years ago. At that time trade via the sea already took place here. On what is now know as the "Burg", there used to be a stronghold in the middle of the 9th century. The port was accessible directly from the sea until the middle of the 11th century. At that moment in time, the town already had grown to an international commercial center.
Slowly however the connection to the sea silted up. A stormflood in 1134 created a new bay, the Zwin, which reached till Damme. Damme became the port of Bruges, lateron Sluis and Bruges continued to be prosperous. Unfortunately, the Zwin silted up too and seaships could no longer reach Damme. Throughout the entire history of the town, the citizens of Bruges continuously tried to maintain their connection to the sea. A last attempt to reach the Westerschelde via a canal (the present Damse Vaart) was undertaken by Napoleon. Because of his loss in the war, the canal never was finished and stops in Sluis. Nowadays the town has again a great seaport, namely Zeebruges.
the Middle Ages, the region around Bruges was one of the most
prosperous of Europe and because of that a very wanted area for
foreign rulers. The county of Flanders came to existence here
and Bruges was its capital. At the peak of its power and wealth,
Flanders was a lot larger than what it is now. Although the one
foreign power after the other ruled the region, the Flemish
cities succeeded in keeping a great level of indepence for a
After Burgundy came Spain, that brought the Southern Netherlands under their government. It was then that Damme became a bastion. Then cam the French revolution and Napoleon. In that period, the town was plundered in administrative way.
The industrial revolution passed by the town and by the middle of the 19th century, Bruges had become the poorest town in Flanders. After that period, tourism began and nowadays millions of tourists visit the town because of its rich cultural heritage and its monuments. This town is a true open-air museum; lots of buildings that date back to the glory days are still intact. That's what makes Bruges one of a kind.
wealth of Bruges is due to many factors. There was the trade
with entire Europe (from Scandinavia and England to the cities
in de Mediteranean Sea). The region had a very flourishing
cloth industry and lateron also the famous lace of Bruges became
a very popular export product. The arrival of foreign Hanzes
and representatives from other cities and countries, transformed
the town to an important financial center, you could say a
Wallstreet avant-la-lettre. Prosperity also brought art in the
town. Think about the priceless Flemish Primitives. But also a
lot of other artefacts are sign of the rich cultural life.
Bruges has lots of museums where you can 'taste' of all this.
© Hendrik De Leyn - www.damme-online.com