If there is only one place you must visit in Bruges, this is it. The Burg Square is the cradle of the city of Bruges, but the Grote Markt or Market Squareis, without a doubt, its religious and political center. There, tourists and local people meet and cross their paths without paying attention one to each other.
The saying goes: “All roads lead to Rome” and we could say that, if Bruges was a Roman Empire mockup, all its streets and alleys would intertwine to finally lead to the Grote Markt of Bruges. It is the city “forum”, the main meeting point for tourist and local people, the square that every Wednesday held a flea market from 9H00 to 13H00, or where every Christmas we can find the ice skating rink and the Christmas market.
But the use of this square as the market place is not new, because from the X century the Grote Markt already hosted the most important market in Bruges and in the region.
When we get in the square, we will be surprised by its large size, which contrast with the narrow and crowded streets leading to it. We will most likely arrive to the Grote Markt from the Burg Square, walking along the BreidelstraatStreet, so we won’t see that we will be just standing next to a 83 meter tower. It is only when we walk inside the Market Square and look around that we are going to notice the dominating presence of the Belfry.
We will be probably admiring the amazing Belfry from the middle of the square, standing just in front of an 1887 sculpture of two men carrying a flag and a sword. They are the two heroes from the city, Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breydel. They fought against the French in 1302 to keep Bruges and Flanders as a free and independent city and region. These two guild leaders led the Flemish troops in the so-called “Battle of the Golden Spurs” against the king Philip IV of France, who wanted enlarge his kingdom conquering Flanders.
Riots are very common in Bruges’ history. We could give as an example the one where the people from Bruges captured Maximilian I of Austria because he had raised the taxes of the city. He was locked up in the Cranenburg house, placed in the southwest side of the Market Square. From this house, Maximilian witnessed how his loyal friend and governor of the city, Peter Lanchals, was beheaded. Nowadays the Cranenburg House is a very popular restaurant among the tourists.
In the northeastern side of the Market Square, just opposite the Belfry, we will find a bunch of colorful houses with stepped gables roofs. They are guild houses from the XVII century, transformed now in bars and restaurants.
If we look to the right now, we will see a big neogothic building, from 1887. It is the Provincial Council House, where, in the past, used to live the province governor, the highest representative of the king in the province. Nowadays, the building host the court law from the West-Flanders province.
Generally speaking, the Belfry in a Flemish city is the physical representation of the city’s power and independence, because the documents containing the privileges of the community were kept in these towers. In addition, it was also used to watch the city. From the top of the tower we could see enemies approaching in case of an invasion or problems in the city, such as fires. In either case, the bells from the tower rang to raise the alarm. But the bells also organized the live of the population, announcing the time, working hours, and a variety of social, political, and religious events, as for example in the case of Bruges, the Procession of the Holy Blood.
The Belfry of Bruges (Belfort in Dutch) is not an exception: the documents assuring the city’s privileges gained after the victory in the Battle of the Golden Spurs against the French were kept inside the tower.
When we look at the Belfry we can easily distinguish the three different parts. The first and the oldest part goes from the base of the building to the first third of the tower. We can see small towers in each corner of this part, built in the XIII century. The middle part of the tower was built in the XIV century and there, we can find the most important bell, the Victory bell: it only rings on special occasions such as the Procession of the Holy Blood or when the Bruges football team wins the league. The octagonal upper stage of the belfry was added between 1483 and 1487 and it holds the 47 carillon bells.
The carillon’s bells ring for each hour and we can listen to different music each quarter of an hour. The bells are switched off between 21H00 and 07H00 in order to respect the local inhabitants' peaceful rest.
We can go up to the top of the tower, but we have to know that we have to do a 366-step climb. It worth the effort because we will have a wonderful panoramic view of Bruges and its surroundings. If weather conditions permit, we may see the see, which is 12 km away. Along this 366-step climb, we will see the 5200 Kg Victory Bell. The Belfry is placed in the former meat and cloth market, where we can visit nowadays some expositions about these subjects.
The Belfry is open every day of the year except for the 1st January, the 25th December and the Ascension Thursday (which is normally in may), when Bruges celebrate the Procession of the Holy Blood. Visiting hours are from 09H30 to 17H00, but we can buy our ticket only until 16H15.Entry is 8 € for adults, 6 € for seniors (+65) and for youngsters under 25, and it’s free for the children under 5 years old.
Markt, 8000, Bruges, Belgium.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you want to go to the GroteMarkt, you will probably get there following the two most common ways. On one side, if you follow the way proposed by us visiting the monuments of Bruges, you will arrive to the Markt from the Burg Square, walking along the Breidelstraat Street.This Street will take you to the square passing between the Belfry and the post office building. On the other side, if you go by car, you can park it in the parking located in the Zand Square and walk along Zuidstraat Street, where you will see a lot of shops, cheap restaurants and The Sint-Salvator Cathedral, the cathedral of Bruges.
- Burg Square (100 m).
- Jan van EyckpleinSquare (275 m).
- Sint-Salvator Cathedral (350 m).
- GroeningeMuseum (375 m).
- GruuthuseMuseum (425 m).
- Zand Square (500 m).