Monday, 8 February 2010

The decline of Bruges

‘Things will work out. Don’t worry.’

What would she have you do, run to England like her brothers? Give up this life you’ve worked so hard to build?

The cloth you weave is renowned around the world. Traders come from as far as Russia and the Middle East. Your Flemish tradition of craftsmanship started in Roman times. The population was high, even then, and farmers had to supplement their income with weaving. That’s how you Flemish are; you solve problems.

When silt first started to block the Zwin estuary, you built out-ports nearer the sea. In the thirteenth century, when local timber ran out, you organised imports. Look at Bruges now, this city of 200,000 is amongst the richest in the world; home to the royal court, famous artists, even that Englishman Caxton, printing his books.

It’s true; the out-ports are silted now, and farmers have moved their cattle off the exhausted land onto the coastal dunes, defying the ancient charters.

Rumours circulate that Antwerp will take your trade. ‘Our days are numbered,’ they say, but you ignore them. You cannot imagine that in a few generations your city will be the poorest in Belgium. Abandoned, practically deserted. It seems impossible; Bruges always pulls through.