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Bruges (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)


Last modified: 2006-01-14 by ivan sache
Keywords: brugge | bruges | lion (blue) |
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[Flag of Bruges]

Municipal flag of Bruges - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 13 April 2005

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Presentation of Bruges

Bruges (116,559 inhabitants) is the capital city of the province of West Flanders. From the XIIth to the XIVth century, it was one of the main maritime, trading and market cities in Western Europe. Since 1970, the port of Zeebrugge, located 12 km of Bruges, is the third port in Belgium.
The old city of Bruges was rediscovered by French and English tourists in the XIXth century and is today heavily loaded by mass tourism.
In 1970, the municipality of Bruges absorbed the neighbouring municipalities of Assebroek, Dudzele, Koolkerke, Lissewege, Sint Andries, Sint Kruis and Sint Michiels.

The name of Bruges comes from old Icelandic Brucciam, meaning pier; the city was mentioned for the first time in a text dated 892. Bruges was then an earth fortress built between the two arms of river Reie by Count Baudouin I of Flanders against the Norseman invaders. Once the Norsemen were expelled from the area, the city developed and the Count attracted merchants. In the XIth and XIIth century, the high tides of the North Sea could reach the city.
From 1180 onwards, the sea opened the New Zwin channel and reached the city later called Damme. The Count of Flanders built there the first lock in Europe. Bruges was linked to Damme by a canal diverted from the Reie. Goods were transshiped in Damme, and later in Sluis, located on the Zwin (today in the Netherlands).

Bruges was the last sea port used by the Hanseatic League before sailing on the English Channel, and was also the outcome of the coasters coming from La Rochelle and Bordeaux(France). It was therefore the main point of meeting of the merchant fleets from Northern and Southern Europe. The city developed rapidly and was enclosed in stone walls. From 1127 to 1300, the intra muros area increased from 86 to 460 hectares. In the XIIth and XIIIth centuries, the merchants and clothiers of Bruges constituted guilds and traded on the fairs of London and Champagne. In the XIIth century, Bruges was the starting and ending point of the land road linking London to Cologne via the Duchies of Brabant and Limburg and the Holy Roman Empire. Genoese ships moored in the port of Bruges for the first time in 1277, followed by ships from Venice and Eastern Spain. The merchants prefered to use the sea road because King of France Philippe le Bel had annexed Champagne. The ships brought alum, silk, strains and spices. Italian moneychangers, then the bankers of the Holy See, set up in the house of the Van der Buerze family the first stock exchange (in Dutch, beurs; in French bourse) in Europe.

The magistrat (Mayor) and the échevins (Municipal Councillors) of Bruges were in permanent struggle against the Count of Flanders and his suzereign, the King of France. They were progressively awarded legal and financial rights. In 1302, the Flemish uprising against Philippe le Bel was mostly funded by the merchants of Bruges. In the XIVth and XVth century, Bruges fought a fratricidal war against the city of Ghent. The main beneficiaries of the increasing insecurity were the prince (the Duke of Burgundy from 1384 to 1482 and then the Hapsburgs) and the English cloth industry.

In the XVth century, real-estate speculation by the rich abbeys and merchants caused the silting of the Zwin, as stressed in an official report released in 1470. In 1484, Bruges revolted against Maximilian of Hapsburg, who was jailed for a while in the city. Bruges lost all its privileges and the foreign merchants moved to Antwerp. The city had then 35,000 inhabitants but started to decline. Bruges missed the developemnt of trading capitalism in the XVIth century and the industrialization in the XIXth century. No industry developed either in the XXth century, and the city was nicknamed Bruges-la-Morte (Bruges-the-Dead) by the Symbolist writer Georges Rodenbach (1855-1898), who published his novel of the same name in 1892.

At the end of the XIXth century, King Léopold II opened the Baudouin Canal between Bruges and Zeebrugge, achieving a project already imagined by Napoléon. During the First World War, the Germans used Zeebrugge as a port of call for their submarines; the English sunk ships loaded with cement in April 1918 in order to block the port. During the Second World War, Zeebrugge was bombed by the Allied air force and completely trashed by the Germans in 1944. The port was completely revamped and new basins were opened in 1960 because of the increasing car-ferry traffic with England. In the 1970s, the port was increased in spite of the opposition of Antwerp and Ghent. Zeebrugge is today the terminal of the gas pipeline (Zeepipe) delivering Norwegian gas to Western Europe. More than 11,000 ships moored each year in Zeebrugge, which is among the 20 most importants ports in the world.

Bruges is mostly renowned for its civil architectural heritage: belfrey and market (c. 1300), city hall (1376), civil clerk's office (1537), justice court (1727), St. John's hospital (rooms , XIIIth-XIVth century); and its religious architectural heritage: Our Lady Church (in Scheldtian Gothic style, XIIIth-XIVth century, showing a Madonna by Michelangelo and the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold), St. Savior's Cathedral (XVIth century), St. Ann's church (XIIth century), St. Walburgius' church (in Jesuit style, 1642) and the Beguine convent (XVIIth-XVIIIth century).
The city has also kept rich houses in the so-called Brugian or Flemish style and rich museums showing paintings by the Flemish primitive painters (Van Eyck, Van der Goes, Memling...)

Source: Guido Peeters. Bruges. Encyclopaedia Universalis.

Ivan Sache, 13 April 2005

Municipal flag of Bruges

The municipal flag of Bruges is horizontally divided into eight white-red-white-red-white-red-white-red stripes with a blue lion in the middle. The lion has a yellow crown and necklace with a small yellow cross and red claws.

The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, which were granted on October 20, 1819 and confirmed on February 26, 1842.
The oldest known seal of Bruges dates from 1199. It shows a fortress and some fleurs-de-lis. A second seal shows a similar composition. The arms first appeared on a third seal, known since the late XIIIth century. The seal still shows a fortress or city gate, but in the base of the seal is a small shield with the bars and lion. In the seal from 1289 the number of bars was increased form six to eight. The meaning of the bars, however is not known.
The arms were first officially granted by the Count of Flanders in 1304. The lion is most likely derived from the lion of Flandersshown in a different colour (blue instead of black). The colours are known since the XIVth century.

Source: International Civic Heraldry website, by Ralf Hartenmink, quoting Servais' Armorial de Belgique and information given by the municipal administration.

Ivan Sache, 13 April 2005

Former flags of Bruges

[Former flag of Bruges]     [Former flag of Bruges]

Former municipal flags of Bruges, c. 1900 - Images by Ivan Sache, 12 June 2005

Nouveau Larousse Illustré, Dictionnaire Universel Encyclopédique (7 volumes, published in Paris, 1898-1904) shows the flags of the main Belgian cities, then based on the traditional colours of the cities.
Two flags are shown for Bruges, both horizontally divided red-white-blue but differing by the ratio of the stripes, 1:6:1 and 1:1:1, respectively.

Jan Martens & Ivan Sache, 12 June 2005