Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Bruges
The great circumference of the city, its numerous squares and streets, and the number and magnificence of its public buildings, all attest its former importance; while the comparative absence of commercial activity, and the general air of desolation, bear witness to its present insignificance. Its trade has, however, considerably revived during the present century, and its great advantages in canal and railway communication, its spacious docks and excellent quays, and the great fertility of the surrounding country, are once more restoring it to its high place among cities. Of the public buildings of Bruges the most remarkable are the Church of Nôtre Dame, containing a sculpture of the Virgin and Child, said to be by Michel Angelo, effigies in copper of Charles the Bold and Mary of Burgundy, who are buried in the church; the cathedral of St Sauveur, built of brick, but internally the handsomest church in Bruges, with some fine pictures by Hemling (or, more correctly, Memling, — see Athenæum, No. 2513) and Peter Porbus; the hospital of St John, a charitable institution, where sick persons are attended by the sisters of charity; the exchange, which is the oldest in Europe; the courthouse, a fine building, partly on the site of the old palace of the counts of Flanders; and the Hôtel de Ville, a small but handsome edifice, dating from 1377 and restored in the present century, in the niches of which there were formerly statues of the old counts of Flanders, which were destroyed by the French revolutionists in 1792. The belfry-tower in the great square, of which Longfellow sings so finely, is the most beautiful structure of the kind in Europe, and its chimes are the best in Belgium. It was erected at the end of the 14th century, and is still used for communicating the alarm of fire by a flag or a light to all parts of the city. In this same square is a house in which Charles II. resided during his exile from England. Among the conventual establishments the most important are the Béguinage and the English nunnery. The town is likewise well provided with the means of education. There is a medical school, to which is attached a museum of natural history and a botanical garden. For the higher departments of school training there is an excellent athenæum, annually subsidized by Government, besides a theological seminary, a school of navigation, and an institution for the deaf and dumb and blind. The academy of painting is in a very flourishing condition, and offers many advantages to the student, as instruction is given gratis in drawing and architecture. The public library in the town-hall contains upwards of 15,000 volumes. The charitable institutions of Bruges are both numerous and well organized. They are all the more necessary, that the number of persons in the city requiring support is unusually great. In the poorhouse alone there is accommodation for nearly 600 individuals, and it is almost always completely filled. The most important manufacture in Bruges is that of lace. The other manufactures consist of linens, woollen and cotton goods, soap, leather, tobacco, starch, pottery, and bells. There are also some small breweries and distilleries, and dyeing and bleaching establishments; and ship-building is also carried on. The exports from Bruges comprise the products of the rich agricultural district that surrounds the town; the imports include metals, dyewoods, wines, fruits, oil, cotton, and wool. Despite the number of canals, the inhabitants of Bruges are very ill supplied with water for domestic purposes; every house is accordingly provided with a tank or butt to receive rain-water. The quantity collected in the public tanks is distributed through the city in pipes. Of the canals the largest is that to Ostend, wide and deep enough to allow vessels of 500 tons to pass up from the sea. The ramifications of these canals intersect the city in all directions, and are crossed by upwards of fifty bridges, whence the name of the town is derived. Population in 1838, 44,374; in 1846, 49,308; in 1851, 50,698; in 1866, 49,819.