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Bruges, located in northwest Belgium, is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish region. The historic oval shaped city center is built around a series of canals, and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The first fortifications in Bruges were built after Julius Caesar’s conquest of the Manapii in the first century, BC in an effort to protect the coastline from pirates. In the 4th century, AD, the Franks conquered the land from the Gallo-Romans, and in the 9th century, AD, the Viking incursions reinforced the Roman fortifications to enable trade with Scandinavia and England.
Bruges is most visited for its historic center, which boasts mostly intact medieval architecture. One of the center’s most remarkable buildings is the Church of Our Lady has a brick spire that extends 401.25 ft. This makes the church one of the tallest brick buildings in the world. The transept of the Church of Our Lady houses Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture, which is believed to be the only sculpture by Michelangelo that left Italy during his lifetime.
If you visit Bruges, you cannot miss its most famous landmark: the thirteenth century Belfry which houses a municipal carillon composed of 48 bells. To this day, Bruges employs a full-time carillonneur – a musician that plays the carillon – who regularly showcases free concerts. Other must-see monuments are the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the City Hall on the Burg square, the Old St. John’s Hospital, Saint Salvator’s Cathedral, and the Groeningemuseum. Be sure to check out Bruge’s collection of medieval and early modern art, which includes works by celebrated Flemish artists such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, who both lived in Bruges.