Monday, December 5, 2011

Second Afternoon in Bruges

While the children slept, I headed to one of the main attractions at the Markt. I ice skated. No, that's a lie. I went up the 366 steps of the belfry to get an awesome view of the town and the outlying countryside. The tower was built in the mid-1200s and was repaired several times due to fires. The current octagonal lantern (the top structure) was added in the 1480s. The wooden spire on the top was not replaced after the 1741 fire.

The Belfry with octagonal lantern on top (that's what they call it!

Map of the staircase

The climb was not so difficult as other climbs I've had here in Europe. Many stops along the way allow the climber to catch their breath. First is the area where tickets are on sale, with a small gift shop. Up from there is the Treasury, where several important civil documents including the town's royal charter were stored. They were placed behind an iron gate with eight locks. Besides the mayor, the heads of the seven main trading guilds had keys for the locks. Other stops included a small plaza, the clock mechanism where you can see the hands slowly be turned from the inside by a system of gears and poles, and finally the 47-bell carillon.

The belfry contained a model of itself!

View from the stenen zaal

A clockwork Belgium

view from the top

The bells did ring while I was up there, to the delight and horror of many fellow tourists!

The climb up had the usual tight spiral staircases that barely allow people to pass each other. Typically the downward traveling person would stay on the inside of the curve, that is the small part of the steps. This was a little nerve racking for me, though I managed it well enough going up and down. I am definitely glad I did it.

After that, I went over to the Holy Blood Basilica and saw the downstairs portion. It was less picturesque but was still moving.

One tough saint!


From there, I headed south to the Groeninge Museum, an art gallery focusing on local artists from the extensive history of Flemish painting. They had regular exhibits of Flemish masters from the early, so-called "Primitive" period, up to 20th century works. Most of the museum was taken up with a traveling exhibit called "Imperial Treasures" that was delightful. I paid the entrance fee and for an audio guide, because those always improve the experience for me (especially with spoken English rather than reading the lingua franca). One of my favorite works in the museum was called "Historia - Tempus - Legenda" by Edmond van Hove and is part of the regular collection.

"Historia - Tempus - Legenda" by Edmond van Hove

What strikes me most about this work is how Legenda immediately engages the viewer, while Historia and Tempus are focused on their own work (documenting history and tearing out the dull bits?). Legends do immediately engage the listener with their personal focus. They are stories about people and dramatic events in their lives. History can also be this, though often it gets swallowed in details like economics, dates, and places. Not that these are not important, but they are less moving and memorable, less engaging. Time robs us of these details but without giving anything back other than white hair and long beards. Legend is the young, beautiful, engaging one of the three.

Another work was called "Christ with the Farmers" which was a simple impressionist-style painting showing a farming family in their home beginning a meal with a prayer. A somewhat ghostly Christ sits with them. Since the style is impressionistic, the other characters are not painted in detail or with realism, so the ethereal nature of the Christ figure is not so out of place; He seems only slightly more impressionistically rendered than the other characters. It was quite fascinating.

I looked for copies of both paintings as prints or postcards but could find neither.

After the various art works from the 19th century and prior, two or three rooms of later 20th century works were there. They definitely suffered by comparison to the earlier works, though not so much some of the stuff from the 1920s. There was one piece from the 1970s called "Black Dot" that was in fact a single black dot on a white canvas. I guess every art gallery has one of these pseudo-works hanging in it.

I looked through the gift shop and bought a small book of the highlights from the permanent collection. But not "Historia - Tempus - Legenda" or "Christ with the Farmers." The latter I could not even find on line, alas.

It was getting late, so I headed back through town to our hotel, hoping to get a little rest in before the children woke up. I did get a half hour rest before we were off again.

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