Upon my arrival to Brussels, I started to explore Belgium by visiting other cities. Everyone’s recommendation is always the Flanders and the most popular tourist place Brugge. Although, later I will discover the south of Belgium, Valonie. 🙂
Flanders is a Dutch speaking part of Belgium, at the north of the country with important place in European history. During the late Middle Ages, cities such as Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels made it one of the richest and most urbanized parts of Europe, having great both domestic import and export. As a consequence, a very sophisticated culture developed, with impressive achievements in the arts and architecture, rivaling those of northern Italy. Flanders was one of the centres of the 19th century industrial revolution too.
Along such developed commerce and business, the society was famous by its own renaissance of the north. Painters like Pieter Bruegel, Jan Van Eyck and Peter Paul Rubens are the founding fathers of Flemish art.
Belgium is a beer-lover’s paradise. And that’s not just its proud inhabitants talking. Even UNESCO recognised its reputation for specialty beers, ever since the Middle Ages. Up to this day the enormous quality is met by an unmatched quantity: there are more than 1.500 original Belgian beers. That includes, among others, Belgian ales, raspberry or cherry beer, wheat beer, Flanders ‘Old’ red and brown, Abbey beer, lambic, gueuze and – the grandest of them all – Trappist.
Belgium has even it’s own pipeline that brings the beer directly from the brevery directly to the beerhouse. The pipeline is 2,000 m long and goues mostly under the city of Brugges.
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. The Flemmish (Dutch) painting renaissance (of the north) was carried by the painters like Jan van Eyck.
Jan van Eyck was a respectful artist of his time, leading the entire new wave of the paint art in the north of Europe. His most famous paint ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’ is complex double portrait oil painting, depicting the Italian merchant and his wige at their home in Brugge. Because of complex iconography and detailed picture space, it is considered the most complex paintig of the western art. The most interesting detail is the reflection of the painter in the convex mirror on the painting. The paint can be found in Nationall Gallery in London.
For five centuries, the Waterhalle was a part of the market in Brugge. It was one of the seven wonders of the city with its magnificent covered harbour. The city itself is a place of channals through which the boats were navigating by bringing the groceries and other trades. It was a time of the Golden Ages of Brugge (12 – 15 century) as being part of Hanseatic League, shaping new forms of merchant capitalism.
The local river made many chanals, however, a storm in 12th century re-established the access to the North sea, creating a natural channel called Zwin. The new sea arm stretched all the way to newly called Zeebrugge, and city soon became the commercial outpost for Bruges. Today, tourist can wals around the long sandbar of the port and have a great lunch with the view on the North Sea.
A magnificent medieval church from 13th century adorns the city, with the altarpiece of the large chapel of the most celebrated art treasure of the church—a white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo, 16th century. The sculpture was meant originally for Siena Cathedral, but it was purchased in Italy by two Brugean merchants, and in 16th century donated to Brugge.
In the choir of the church there can also be find the splendid tombs of Duke of Burgundy, and his daughter, Maria of Burgundy who died. A she was born in Brussels, she united house of Bourbon with Burgundie dutchy and reigning the Flanders upon her death at age of 25 falling from her horse. She married in Ghent an austrian archduke, future Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, uniting her house with the House of Habsburgs.
Ghent’s wealth in the early medieval period was thanks to the import and export of wheat, and the manufacture of luxury woollen cloth. Much of the city’s medieval architecture remained intact and is remarkably well preserved and restored.
The most important cityscape’s are the Belfry and the St Bavo’s Cathedral, a rococco buildings of the 15th century.
Today, Ghent is an important university city of Belgium as an interesting crossover between open cosmopolitanism and the quiet atmosphere of a provincial town.
According to the legend, there was a big giant Antigoon that lived in the river Scheldt and tolled the local fishermen and boatmen. Those who refused to pay, he would soak and kill. But a young hero killed the giant cutting off his hands and flung them into the river. Hence the name Antwerpen, from Dutch hand werpen, meaning ‘to throw hands.’
Antwerpen has a beautiful Cathedral of our Lady, same as Brugge, dating from 14th century. It houses triptychs by Baroque painter Rubens. The building was builded on a site of a small church from 9th century, in a gothic style and never been completed.
Later, in 16th century, when Antwerp came under the Protestant Administration, many of its works of art have been destroyed, demolished, removed or sold.
The most famous peace of art is The Raising of the cross, by local glorious paintor Peter Paul Rubens. It is a tryptich painting, masterpiece of the mentioned flemmish art, clearly being influenced by italian renaissance.
Rubens was born nearby Antwerp in 17th century, as a so of reformation’s family (calvinists). He is most notable artist of Flemish Baroque art school. A year after marrying, he designed his house, an Italian-style villa (after spending sme years in Italy doing apprenticeship) in Antwerpen, called Rubenshuis, with beautiful interior courtyard and gardens behind the house.
Antwer is also a famous shopping city of Belgium, fashion place and The World’s Capital of Diamonds, as around 80% of the world’s rough diamonds, and 50% of its cut diamonds are traded in Antwerp each year.
It is a huge port of Europe since it area is 50 miles inland. As a result, the port of Antwerp has become one of Europe’s second largest sea port by total freight shipped.
Located on both sides of the Scheldt River, the city of Antwerp is connected by three tunnels under the river. The Kennedy Tunnel was opened to road traffic in 1969, and was named after John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States.
The massive Antwerpen-Centraal (Antwerp Central) is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations, opened in 1905 – the times of Belgian Art Nouveau.
Dynamic and thriving city, most famous by its university: the oldest Catholic University in the world, founded in 1425. The historic centre is one of the most beautiful in Belgium.
The most famous citymark is gothic City Hall on the main square.
Then this city, probably my favourite as it is at the seaside, having long riviera, trying to capture my mood and remind me on the Mediterranean.
It is a coastal city on the North Seam in the history being constatntly taken by different invadors (French, English, Dutch, then later Flemmish, German…)
Especially during July and August, Ostend is famous for its sea-side esplanade, including the Royal Galleries of Ostend, pier, and fine-sand beaches. Ofcourse, some great sea food is well offered as well. 🙂