Brugesor Brugge, city in north-west Belgium, capital of West Flanders Province, near the port of Oostende. Several rail lines serve the city, which is also connected by canals to Oostende, Ghent, and the port of Zeebrugge. A famous industry here is the manufacture of fine lace, a product for which the city has long enjoyed a world-wide reputation. Other industries include textile and chemical manufacturing, brewing, and shipbuilding. Points of interest in Bruges include the more than 50 bridges that span the canals in the city and that open to permit the passage of ships. Among the many medieval buildings are the 13th-century Halles, or market hall, with a belfry 108 m (353 ft) high; the Cathedral of St Salvator (13th-14th century); the Chapel of the Precious Blood (12th cent.); the Hospital of St John (12 cent.); the 13th-century church of Notre Dame, with a 122 m (400 ft) tower; and the Hôtel de Ville, the oldest town hall in Belgium, begun in the 14th century. Among the art treasures of the city are a marble Virgin and Child, attributed to Michelangelo, and paintings by Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck.
The counts of Flanders fortified Bruges in the 9th century. At that time the town was linked to the sea by the Zwyn River, and during the next four centuries its importance as a port increased steadily. Bruges became a member of theHanseatic League about 1340. The city, then one of the leading trade and woollen-goods manufacturing centres of the world, flourished until the end of the 15th century. After that it began to decline, primarily because of the silting up of the Zwyn River. As a consequence, the weaving industry disintegrated, and the guilds collapsed. Bruges never regained its former preeminence as a trading and manufacturing centre, and before the end of the 16th century it was known as Bruges-la-Morte (Fr. "dead Bruges"). From 1795 to 1814, during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, it was ruled by France. It passed into the possession of the Netherlands from 1814 to 1831, when Belgium finally achieved independence. Construction of the canal between Bruges and Zeebrugge early in the 20th century considerably accelerated commercial activity in the city. German military forces occupied Bruges from 1914 to 1918 during World War I and again during World War II. Population (1991 estimate) 116,717.