THE town of Bruges itself is more interesting, after all, than almost any one thing in it. Vary your day by giving up the morning to definite sightseeing, and devoting the afternoon to strolls through the town and neighbourhood, in search of picturesqueness. I subjoin a few stray hints for such casual rambles.
Set out from the Grand’ Place, and turn down the Rue Breydel to the Place du Bourg. Cross the Place by the statue of Jan van Eyck; traverse the Rue Philippe Stock ; turn up the Rue des Armuriers a little to the right, and continue on to the Place St. Jean, with a few interesting houses. Note here and else-where, at every turn, the little statues of the Virgin and Child in niches, and the old signs on the fronts or gables. The interesting Gothic turret which faces you as you go belongs to the old fourteenth century building called De Poorters Loodge, or the Assembly Hall of the Noble Citizens Within the Gate, as opposed to those of the Franc de Bruges. Continue on in the same direction to the Place Jan van Eyck, where you open up one of the most charming views in Bruges over the canal and quays. The Place is ” adorned ” by a modern statue of Jan van Eyck. The dilapidated building to your left is that of the Académie des Beaux-Arts which occupies the site of the Citizens’ Assembly Hall : the ancient edifice was wholly rebuilt and spoilt in 1755, with the exception of the picturesque tower, best viewed from the base of the statue. Opposite you, as you emerge into the Place, is the charming Tonlieu or Custom House, whose decorated façade and portal (restored) bear the date 1477, with the arms of Pieter van Luxemburg, and the collar of the Golden Fleece. The dainty little neighbouring house to the left, now practically united with it, has a coquettish façade: the saints in the niches are St. George, St. John Baptist, St. Thomas à Becket (or Augustine?), and St. John the Evangelist.
The Tonlieu is now fitted up as the Municipal Library, and is open daily, free, from ten to one, and from three to five, Saturday and Sunday excepted. It contains illuminated manuscripts and examples of editions printed by Colard Mansion. All round the Place are other picturesque mediæval or Renaissance houses.
The little street diagonally to the right of the Tonlieu leads on to the Marché du Mercedi, now called Place de Memling, embellished by a statue of the great painter. Cross the Place diagonally to the Quai des Espagnoles, keeping the Madonna and Child in front of you, and continue along the quay, to the left, to the first bridge; there cross and go along the picturesque Quai des Augustins to the Rue Flamande. There is a quaint little window to the left as you cross the bridge. Follow the Rue Flamande as far as the Theatre, just before reaching which you pass, right, a hand-some mediæval stone mansion (formerly the Guild of the Genoese Merchants), with a relief over the door, representing St. George killing the Dragon, and the Princess Cleodolind looking on. At the Theatre, turn to the right, following the tram line, and making your way back to the Grand Place by the Rue des Tonneliers.
As early as 1362, Bruges acquired its existing size, and was surrounded by ramparts, which still in part remain. A continuous canal runs round these ramparts, and beyond it again lies an outer moat. Most of the old gates have unhappily been destroyed, but four still exist. These may be made the objects of interesting rambles.
Go from your hotel, or from the Grand’ Place, by the Rue Flamande, as far as the Rue de l’Académie. Turn along this to the right, into the Place Jan van Eyck, noting as you pass the Bear of Bruges at the corner of the building of the old Academy. Follow the quay straight on till you reach a second canal, near the corner of which, by the Rue des Carmes, is an interesting shop with good beaten brasswork. Take the long squalid Rue des Carmes to the right, past the ugly convent of the English Ladies, with its domed church in the most painful taste of the later Renaissance (1730). The medieval brick building on your right, at the end o,f the street, is the late Gothic Guildhouse of the Archers of St. Sebastian. Its slender octagonal tower has a certain picturesqueness. (St. Sebastian was of course the patron of archery.) Charles II. of England (see under the Grand’ Place) was a member of this society during his exile : his bust is preserved here. So also was the Emperor Maximilian. Continue to the ramparts, and mount the first hill, crowned by a windmill, a scene of a type familiar to us in many later Dutch and Flemish pictures. A picturesque view of Bruges is obtained from this point : the octagonal Belfry, the square tower of St. Sauveur, the Cathedral, the tapering brick spire of Notre-Dame, with its projecting gallery, and the steeple of the new Church of the Madeleine are all conspicuous in views from this side. Follow the ramparts to the right, to the picturesque Porte de Ste. Croix, and on past the barracks and the little garden to the Quai des Dominicains, returning by the Park and the Place du Bourg or the Dyver.
Set out by the Grand’ Place and the Place du Bourg; then follow the Rue Haute, with its interesting old houses, as far as the canal. Do not cross it, but skirt the quay on the further side, with the towers of St. Walburge and St. Gilles in front of you. At the bridge, diverge to the right, round the Church of St. Anne, and the quaint little Church of Jerusalem, which contains an unimportant imitation of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, founded by a burgomaster of Bruges in the fifteenth century. It is just worth looking at. Return to the bridge, and follow the quay straight on to the modern Episcopal Seminary and the picturesque old Hospice de la Potterie, which now harbours the Museum of Antiquities belonging to the Hospital of St. John. I do not advise a visit. It contains third-rate early Flemish pictures, inferior tapestry, and a few pieces of carved oak furniture. Admission, fifty centimes : entrance by the door just beyond the church, No. F, 79. The church itself is worth a minute’s visit. This walk passes many interesting old houses, which it is not necessary now to specify. Return by the Porte de Damme, and the opposite side of the same canal, to the Pont des Carmes, whence follow the pretty canal on the right to the Rue Flamande.
Take the Rue St. Jacques, and go straight out to the Porte d’Ostende, which forms an interesting picture. Cross the canal and outer moat, and traverse the long avenue, past the gasometers, as far as the navigable canal from Bruges to Ostend. Then retrace your steps to the gateway, and return by the ramparts and the Railway Station to the Rue Nord du Sablon.
These four walks will show you almost all that is externally interesting in the streets and canals of the city.
The original Palace of the Counts of Flanders, we saw, occupied the site of the Palais de Justice. Their later residence, the Cour des Princes, in a street behind the Hôtel du Commerce, has now entirely disappeared. Its site is filled by a large, ornate modern building, belonging to the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who use it as a school for girls.
The water-system of Bruges is also interesting. The original river Reye enters the town at the Minnewater, flows past the Hospital and the Dyver, and turns northward at the Bourg, running under arches till it emerges on the Place Jean van Eyck. This accounts for the apparently meaningless way this branch seems to stop short close to the statue of Van Eyck : also, for the mediæval ships unloading at the Grand’ Place. The water is now mostly diverted along the canals and the moat by the ramparts.