Top Historic Sights in Bruges, Belgium

Explore the historic highlights of Bruges

Belfry of Bruges

The belfry of Bruges, or Belfort, is a medieval bell tower and one of the Bruges" most prominent symbols. The belfry formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives, and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger. A narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps, accessible by the public for an entry fee, leads to the top of the 83-metre-high building, which leans about a metre to the east. The be ...
Founded: c. 1240 | Location: Bruges, Belgium

Historic Centre of Brugge

Brugge is an outstanding example of a medieval historic settlement, which has maintained its historic fabric as this has evolved over the centuries, and where original Gothic constructions form part of the town"s identity. As one of the commercial and cultural capitals of Europe, Brugge developed cultural links to different parts of the world. It is closely associated with the school of Flemish Primitive painting. B ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Bruges, Belgium

Basilica of the Holy Blood

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a Roman Catholic minor basilica in Bruges. Originally built in the 12th century as the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders, the church houses a venerated relic of the Holy Blood allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders. Built between 1134 and 1157, it was promoted to minor basilica in 1923. The 12th-cen ...
Founded: 1134-1157 | Location: Bruges, Belgium

Church of Our Lady

The Church of Our Lady in Bruges dates mainly from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Its tower, at 122.3 metres in height, remains the tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world. In the choir space behind the high altar are the tombs of Charles the Bold, last Valois Duke of Burgundy, and his daughter, the duchess Mary. The gilded bronze effigies of both father and daughter repose a ...
Founded: 1270 | Location: Bruges, Belgium

St. Salvator's Cathedral

St. (Sint) Salvator Cathedral, the main church of the Bruges, is one of the few buildings in Bruges that have survived the onslaught of the ages without damage. Nevertheless, it has undergone some changes and renovations. This church was not originally built to be a cathedral; it was granted the status in the 19th century. Since the 10th century the Sint-Salvator was a common parish church. At that time the Sint-Donaaskat ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Bruges, Belgium

Bruges Béguinage

The Princely Béguinage Ten Wijngaerde is the only preserved béguinage (architectural complex which formerly housed beguines, lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world) in Bruges. There are no more Beguines living there, but since 1927 it functions as a convent for Benedictines, founded by canon Hoornaert. In the same year the houses at the west side were also reshaped and ...
Founded: 1240 | Location: Bruges, Belgium

St. James's Church

St. James"s Church was originally built around 1240, but considerably expanded in 1459 to match the rising affluence of Bruges, and was patronized by the Duke of Burgundy. In the late 17th and early 18th century the church"s interior was remodeled in its present Baroque style.
Founded: 1240 | Location: Bruges, Belgium

Male Castle

Male Castle was almost entirely rebuilt and restored after the destruction of World War II. It has housed St. Trudo"s Abbey since 1954. The castle"s origins date back to the 9th century, as a defensive tower for protection of the territory around Bruges against the Vikings. Male was held by Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders, between 1168 and 1191, who replaced the wooden structure with one built of stone, whi ...
Founded: c. 1166 | Location: Bruges, Belgium

St. Andrew's Abbey

St. Andrew"s Abbey was a Benedictine abbey which was destroyed in the French Revolution. Its modern successor St. Andrew"s Abbey, Zevenkerken, founded in 1899–1900, is a Benedictine abbey of the Congregation of the Annunciation. The charter of the abbey was signed in 1100 and ratified by Count Robert II of Flanders. The abbey was built on what is now the site of the parish church of St. Andrew and St. Ann ...
Founded: 1100/1898 | Location: Bruges, Belgium

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Wawel Castle

Wawel Hill – a Jurassic limestone rock, a dominant feature in the landscape of Kraków, have provided a safe haven for people who have settled here since the Paleolithic Age. It is supposed that the Slav people started living on Wawel hill as early as the 7th century. Early medieval legends tell stories about a dreadful dragon that lived in a cave on Wawel Hill, about his slayer Krakus, and about the latter’s daughter Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight. Towards the end of the first millennium A.D Wawel began to play the role of the centre of political power.In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of the Vislane tribe. The first historical ruler of Poland, Miesco I (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslas the Brave (992-1025) and Miesco II (1025-1034) chose Wawel Hill as one of their residences.

At that time Wawel became one of the main Polish centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque and Romanesque sacral buildings were raised here, including a stone cathedral that was erected after the bishopric of Kraków was established in the year 1000.

During the reign of Casimir the Restorer (1034-1058) Wawel became a significant political and administrative centre for the Polish State. Casimir’s son, Boleslas the Bold (1058-1079) began the construction of a second Romanesque cathedral, which was finished by Boleslas the Wrymouth (1102-1138). In his last will of 1138, this prince divided Poland into districts, and provided that Kraków was to be the residence of the senior prince. In 1291 the city of Kraków along with Wawel Hill temporarily fell under the Czech rule, and Wenceslas II from the Premysl dynasty was crowned King of Poland in Wawel cathedral.

In 1306 the Duke of Kuyavia Ladislas the Short (1306-1333) entered Wawel and was crowned King of Poland in the Cathedral in 1320. It was the first historically recorded coronation of a Polish ruler on Wawel Hill. Around that time, at the initiative of Ladislas the Short, the construction of the third Gothic cathedral began, the castle was expanded and the old wooden and earthen fortifications were replaced by brick ones. The tomb of Ladislas the Short in the cathedral started a royal necropolis of Polish kings in Krakow.The last descendant of the Piast dynasty, Casimir the Great (1333-1370) brought Wawel to a state of unprecedented splendour. In 1364 the expanded gothic castle witnessed the marriage of Casimir’s granddaughter Elizabeth to Charles IV accompanied by a famous convention of kings and princes, subsequently entertained by a rich burgher Wierzynek. The accession to the throne in 1385 of Jadwiga from the Hungarian dynasty of Andegavens, and her marriage to a Lithuanian prince Ladislas Jagiello (1386-1434) started another era of prosperity for Wawel. The royal court employed local and western European artists and also Rus painters. During the reign of Casimir Jagiellon (1447-1492) the silhouette of the hill was enriched by three high brick towers: the Thieves’ Tower, the Sandomierz Tower and the Senatorial Tower. The first humanists in Poland and tutors to the king’s sons: historian Jan Długosz and an Italian by the name Filippo Buonacorsi (also known as Callimachus) worked there at that time.

The Italian Renaissance arrived at Wawel in the early 16th century. King Alexander (1501-1506) and his brother Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) commissioned the construction of a new palace in place of the Gothic residence, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries which was completed about 1540. Sigismund’s patronage also left an indelible impression in the cathedral, where a family chapel was erected, known today as Sigismund’s Chapel - the work of Bartolomeo of Berrecci Florence, and through various foundations, one of which was that of a large bell, called the Sigismund to commemorate the king. Close artistic and cultural relations with Italy were strengthened in 1518 by the king’s marriage to Bona Sforza. Alongside Italian artists, German architects, wood workers, painters and metal smiths worked for the king. The last descendant of the Jagiellonian dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus (1548-1572), enriched the castle’s interiors with a magnificent collection of tapestries woven in Brussels. In the “Golden Age” of Polish culture Wawel became one of the main centres of humanism in Europe.

The reign of Sigismund III Waza (1587-1632) also made a strong impression on the history of Wawel. After a fire in the castle in 1595 the king rebuilt the burned wing of the building in the early Baroque style. The relocation of the royal court to Warsaw was the cause of a slow but nevertheless steady deterioration in the castle’s condition. The monarchs visited Kraków only occasionally. Restoration of the castle was undertaken during the reign of John III Sobieski, the Wettins and Stanislas Augustus to counteract neglect.

After Poland had lost its independence in 1795, the troops of partitioning nations, Russia, Prussia and Austria, subsequently occupied Wawel which finally passed into the hands of the Austrians. The new owners converted the castle and some of the secular buildings into a military hospital, and demolished some others, including churches. After the period of the Free City of Kraków (1815-1846) Wawel was once more annexed by Austria and turned into a citadel dominating the city. By the resolution passed by the Seym of Galicia in 1880, the castle was presented as a residence to the Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I. The Austrian troops left the hill between 1905-1911. At the turn of the 20th century a thorough restoration of the cathedral was conducted, and shortly afterwards a process of restoration of the royal castle began which lasted several decades.

When Poland regained its independence in 1918, the castle served as an official residence of the Head of State, and as a museum of historic interiors. During the Nazi occupation the castle was the residence of the German governor general, Hans Frank. Polish people managed to remove the most valuable objects, including the tapestries and the “Szczerbiec” coronation sword to Canada, from where they returned as late as 1959-1961. At present, the main curators of Wawel are Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection and the Metropolitan Basilica Board on Wawel Hill.