☆ Sacred Places Europe: 108 Destinations ☆ Belgium ☆
The tiny country Belgium has direct roots with neighboring France and, to a lesser degree, with the Netherlands and Germany. Belgium is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with 10.5 million inhabitants in an area slightly larger than Maryland. About 6.5 million Belgians are Flemish, 4 million consider themselves Walloons (French speakers), 65,000 speak German primarily, and all the rest are immigrants who speak foreign languages. Nearly every Belgian citizen is fluent in French, spoken primarily in the southern Wallonia region. Flemish is spoken in the Flanders region of northern Belgium, but largely ignored in Wallonia. Flemish is essentially Dutch, but with a slight difference to the way Dutch is spoken in Holland. For the Belgian elite, French was the adopted language of the nobility. The capital, Brussels, is officially bilingual. Much of its modern religious history was influenced by French Catholicism, yet Belgium is the meeting point of the Catholic and Protestant religions, along with the Romantic and Germanic languages. King Charles V of Spain was born in Gent, a wealthy city in Flanders. When he ascended the Spanish throne in 1516, Charles V was regarded as the only emperor to rule the known world, includingall of the Americas newly annexed by the conquistadors.
☆ Bruges ☆
The magnificent old section of Bruges is one of Europe’s best preserved examples of an intact medieval Gothic city. Sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North,” Bruges has many waterways intersecting the city. As one of the first commercial capitals of Europe, Bruges developed worldwide cultural and economic links and became fabulously wealthy through trade, then went into a prolonged recession when its port accumulated excessive silt. Commerce moved to other cities, craftsmen left, and within a few hundred years of being founded,
Bruges became a virtual medieval time capsule. The first stock exchange was created by Bruges merchants, who used the term Bourse. The word is named after Van der Burse, a wealthy merchant who, with others in 1309, institutionalized the “Bruges Bourse.” The idea spread quickly around the Flanders region. In less than a decade Bourses opened in Gent and Amsterdam, then around the world.
The historic old city of Bruges was listed in 2000 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of its celebrated importance, the city of Bruges is easily accessed from all directions in northern Belgium. The Bruges train station is just a 10 minutes’ walk from the city center. A bus leaves for the center every 10 minutes. Some maps also spell the city name as “Brugge.”
Sacred Places Europe: 108 Destinations / Brad Olsen