Brugge, Belgium

General Information

Regional secretariat

Administrative status

County seat of the province of West-Flanders

Historic Centre of Brugge

Registration Year


Historical function

Commercial, cultural and artistic

Location and site

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.

Urban Morphology

The city reflects a considerable exchange of influences on the development of art and architecture, particularly in brick Gothic, which is characteristic of northern Europe and the Baltic. This architecture strongly determines the character of the historic centre of the city.

The 12th century city walls marked the boundaries of the medieval city. Although the walls themselves are lost today, they remain clearly visible, emphasized by the four surviving gates, the ramparts and one of the defence water towers. The medieval street pattern, with main roads leading towards the important public squares, has mostly been preserved, as well as the network of canals which, once used for mercantile traffic, played an important role in the development of the city.

Registration Criteria

Criterion (ii): The Historic Centre of Brugge bears testimony to a considerable exchange of influences on the development of architecture, and particularly brick Gothic architecture, over a long period of time. As the birthplace of the school of the Flemish Primitives, it has favoured innovative artistic influences in the development of medieval painting.

Criterion (iv): The Historic Centre of Brugge is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble. The city’s public, social and religious institutions illustrate significant stages in the history of commerce and culture in medieval Europe

Criterion (vi): The Historic Centre of Brugge was birthplace of the Flemish Primitives and a centre of patronage and development of painting in the Middle Ages with artists such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.

Historical Reference

In the 15th century, Brugge was the cradle of the Flemish Primitives and a centre of patronage and painting development for artists such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling. Many of their works were exported and influenced painting styles all over Europe. Exceptionally important collections have remained in the city until today.

Even after its economic and artistic peak at the end of the Middle Ages, building and urban development continued, although Brugge mostly missed the 19th-century industrial revolution. In the 18th and 19th centuries, many medieval parcels were joined to larger entities and new quarters were also developed. The most striking examples of large scale post-medieval interventions in the historic centre are the urbanization around Coupure (1751-1755), the Zand and the first railway station (1838), the Theatre quarter (1867), the Koningin Elisabethlaan and Gulden Vlieslaan (1897) and the creation of the Guido Gezelle-neighbourhood (1920-1930).

In the second half of the 20th century, some major changes occurred with Zilverpand (1976), the new Public Library (1975-1978), the new Palace of Justice and Kartuizerswijk (1980), Clarendam (1990) and Colettijnenhof (1997).

Belfries of Belgium and France

Registration Year


Historical function

Symbol of power and prosperity of the communes

Location and site

Twenty-three belfries in the north of France and the belfry of Gembloux in Belgium were inscribed in 2005, as an extension to the 32 Belgian belfries inscribed in 1999 as Belfries of Flanders and Wallonia. Built between the 11th and 17th centuries, they showcase the Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles of architecture. They are highly significant tokens of the winning of civil liberties. While Italian, German and English towns mainly opted to build town halls, in part of north-western Europe, greater emphasis was placed on building belfries. Compared with the keep (symbol of the seigneurs) and the bell-tower (symbol of the Church), the belfry, the third tower in the urban landscape, symbolizes the power of the aldermen. Over the centuries, they came to represent the influence and wealth of the towns.

Urban Morphology

High towers built in the heart of urban areas, often dominating the principal square, the belfries are essential elements in the organization and representation of the towns to which they belong. The site inscribed on the World Heritage List comprises 33 belfries located in Belgium (26 in Flanders and 7 in Wallonia) and 23 belfries located in northern France.

A symbolic element in the landscape in ancient Netherlands and the north of France, the belfry represents, in the heart of urban areas, the birth of municipal power in the Middle Ages. A practical building housing the communal bells, conserving charters and treasures, where city council meetings were held, serving as a watch tower and a prison, the belfry has, over the centuries, become the symbol of power and prosperity of the communes.

Registration Criteria

Criterion (ii):  The belfries of Belgium and France are exceptional examples of a form of urban architecture adapted to the political and spiritual requirements of their age.

Criterion (iv):  The Middle Ages saw the emergence of towns that were independent of the prevalent feudal system. The belfries of Belgium and France symbolize this new-found independence, and also the links within them between the secular and religious powers.

Historical Reference

The belfries are, together with the market hall, significant representatives of civil and public architecture in Europe. The evolution from the “seigneurial keep” to the “communal keep” is noteworthy. The church belfries bear witness to the relationship, within the community, between civil and religious power. Closely associated with the expansion and government of European towns in the Middle Ages, the belfries, by the variety of their type and the evolution of their appearance, and the complexes with which they were often associated, represent an essential element in public architecture from the 11th century onwards.

Beyond their architectural structure, the belfries present a wide typology linked both to the history of the communities, the period of construction, the materials used and the personality of their master builders. In the urban configuration, they can be isolated, attached to a market place or to a town hall. In several cases, the civil function is exercised by the church belfry. The period of construction of the belfries extends from the 11th to the 20th century, presenting a wide diversity of style, from Roman art to Art Deco.

Bearing a strong identity, the belfries have suffered much damage from armed conflict but their regular rebuilding, occurring to this day, expresses their exceptional symbolic role and the communities’ attachment to them.




M. Dirk De fauw

Ville de Bruges

Burg 12
Bruges, Belgique

00.32 (0)50 44 81 13
[email protected]

Mme Minou Esquenet

Échevine pour le climat et l'énergie, la politique environnementale, Smart City et la gestion des installations
Ville de Bruges

Stadhuis, Burg 12, b-8000 brugge
Bruges, Belgique

050 47 54 38
[email protected]

Mme Brigitte Beernaert

Lic. Histoire de l'art
Département des Monuments historiques

Oostmeers 17
B- 8000 Bruges, Belgique

+32 50 47 23 82
[email protected]