Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

In Bruges

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Belgium is the town of Bruges. Apart from the historic buildings, one of the town’s best features is undoubtedly the ‘reien’ – the canals crisscrossing the town.

All year round –in winter only during weekends – twenty tourist boats run up and down the canals, showing Bruges’ incredible heritage to eager tourists from all over the world. Bruges’ tourist board estimates their numbers at about 1 million every year. However, the boats are not the only things floating on the ‘reien’. Almost as famous as the town itself, are its swans.

There is a legend attached to the swans’ presence. It goes back to 1488, when Bruges knew a violent uprising of the local population against the reign of the Arch Duke Maximilian of Austria. After the accidental death of his young and beautiful wife Margaret of Burgundy – she was killed falling from her horse – the grieving Arch Duke instructed his loyal yet cruel overseer called Lanchals to rule the town with a firm hand. I don’t know why, because the town had nothing to do with Margret’s early death.

The people of Bruges resented this, of course, and showed their disapproval by incarcerating the Arch Duke in a house just off the town’s main square. The overseer was taken prisoner too and tortured and decapitated by the angry citizens. From his prison Maximilian witnessed the whole scene. Later – the history books don’t mention how much later – when Maximilian was released, he marked the posthumous rehabilitation of Lanchals by ordering the town of Bruges to ‘look after the white longnecks (swans) on its canals for the rest of time’.

Source: the internet

Recently, the swans of Bruges were headline news. A few weeks ago a black swan was spotted on one of the canals. This was not to the liking of the town council, who decided that it was not in line with the town’s image. Council workers were instructed to catch the black rascal and take it to a bird sanctuary. The official reason for this forced evacuation was that the exotic black swan could be carrying infectious diseases that could kill the white swan population. The council workers undertook several attempts to catch the intruder. All failed. They finally had to give up when their small craft crashed into a wall, damaging the engine.

Source: the internet

On Facebook a support group in favour of the black swan rapidly got several thousands of followers. Last week, several newspapers reported that another black swan had been spotted on a stream just outside Bruges. ‘Second black swan on its way to Bruges’ the headline read. Was this the beginning of an invasion and would the canals soon be populated by black, white and later maybe grey swans? For a few days nothing more was heard of either swan …

Source: the internet

Until yesterday …


chm said...

I fondly remember seeing Bruges many decades ago. In addition to the beautiful buildings, I enjoyed looking at a sculpture of the Virgin by Michel-Ange in one of the churches. I loved the canals, but don't remember any swan of any color.

The Beaver said...

Two things that I remember from my trip there some 19 yrs ago:
All the church steeples seen from the boat on the canals and the good good beer after visiting a brewery seen on my boat tour. I believe that I even brought some bottles back to Montreal for Y.

Louise said...

What lovely memories flood back of my week in Bruges in 2009. Of all the places I have visited in Europe, Bruges remains the city in which I felt most at home...and to read that black swans are " invading" the canals is ironic for me...the black swan is the state symbol of Western Australia!

Carolyn said...

I remember the nuns' choir singing in the Beguinage.

ladybird said...

Chm, Bruges' monuments harbour a great deal of priceless pieces of art. If you visited Bruges in the 50-ties the swan population was probably still recovering from WWII.

TB, The beer is still famous. Only recently two breweries put in an underground network to get the beer from the brewery straight to the pubs. Maybe you should consider visiting again!

Louise, The fact that the swan was an 'exotic' bird was the main reason why the council wanted to get rid of it (sorry!). By the way, I guess it felt it wasn't really welcome and it has left. Maybe it's on its way to Australia right now. ;)

Carolyn, Beguinages are unique places. You'll only find them in Flanders. I'm glad you've kept a nice memory of your visit.

chm said...

It was in the 30's I was in Bruges; before World War Two. Any idea when the city decided to have swans there, or were they wild ones that settled in Bruges?