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Historium Brugge – a visit to Medieval Bruges

Van Eyck aan het werk-1 Image Courtesy Historium Brugge

Painter Van Eyck at work
 

Walking the streets of Bruges you can almost imagine yourself back in the Middle Ages; there are cobbles underfoot, canals crossed by arched stone bridges, here and there pointed Gothic buildings, like the City Hall, still in regular use.  Church bells too, ringing out the rhythm of the day as they have for centuries.

But what of the people who lived then and the feelings of those times? What was it like?

To find out I headed for Historium Brugge, a new attraction that has recently opened on the old Market place – the Markt – in the heart of the city, to be transported back in time.

It is 1435, Brugge has grown rich on the cloth trade and merchants come from north and south to to do business.  In his studio the Flemish painter Jan van Eyck is working on a painting commissioned by Canon Joris Van Paele. Two figures are missing,  the Madonna and a green ring-necked parakeet. Jacob, his apprentice, is sent to collect Anna, the model who will sit as the Madonna, and the bird from the harbour … so begins our journey through Medieval Brugge.

Haven panorama

Haven panorama
 

The ambitious project has been in the making since 2006 and involved many talented people from historians and designers to digital artists and technicians.  The idea was simple; to show visitors what what Brugge was like in the Middle Ages, pulling together all the elements, a film, sound, special effects and creating the immersive environment much more complicated.  You get an idea of the scale of the undertaking when you contemplate the thousands of man hours that must have gone into the digital remodelling of Brugge from old paintings and prints to create the background for scenes in the film.  The attention to detail and the quality of the production is impressive.

So was I transported? Well, there was one little glitch: the story is told through headphones with a choice of 9 languages, and unfortunately myself, mum and sister who were with me all had some difficulty getting our audio sets to play in English which rather distracted at first from slipping into the 15th century. This was just after the Historium opened and I’m sure a teething problem that will have been speedily fixed. By the end though, yes, I was getting absorbed and would have liked to have stayed longer.

Leaving the past on the second floor there is a display which gives context to the experience and some information about Brugge as it was then.  Nothing heavy but welcome in filling in historical detail and showing the city’s trading connections.  I was interested to find the Waterhalle, a covered boat shed, that comes into the story had indeed once stood on the Markt below us.  Goods could be unloaded straight to market. With a new found sense of Brugge past and this sort of knowledge you see things differently.  Looking down on the market place from the balcony outside is it now or then? Whichever the view is good.

While the experience itself, which lasts about 30 minutes, is linear with controlled entry in time slots, you can spend as long as you want in the rest of the Historium without charge.  A floor below,  following the elusive ribbon of Anna’s red cloak you can enjoy a glass of Belgium beer – the taste –  in the burnished surrounds of the Duvelorium (Duvel Moortgat nv are partners).  The balcony here is covered and makes a good spot to sit and watch life on the Markt.  Then on the ground floor, if you haven’t already been tempted on the way in, is a Pol Depla chocolate store and gift shop.

Interieur Duvelorium

Interieur Duvelorium
 

I can see Historium Brugge becoming a regular stop for visitors to Brugge.  Setting out to explore the city knowing how it was in the past makes sense, and even should you decide to give time travel a miss the Historium is a good place to start a visit to the city as there is a tourist information office on site and locker rooms where you can leave bags for free. Also – always handy to know – public toilets which cost  €0.50 to access.  The facilities have been well thought out and the neo Gothic building, which looks as if it was built in the Middle Ages but is in fact much younger, is spacious with wheelchair access including to the experience.

Coming back to the Tourist Information for a moment, I liked the forward thinking that’s gone into this area which is paperless with not a brochure in sight. Through a smart, touch screen desk you can find information and plan an itinerary taking into account the time available, weather and interests which can then be email to yourself – nifty.

There are many good exhibit based museums in Brugge, Historium Brugge is all about the senses and will, I think, appeal to all ages with its modern approach.  My advice to time travellers: take a moment in the foyer to meet the characters waiting for you in the past, then when your time comes swipe your ticket, step through the door and lose yourself in Medieval Brugge.

 

Visiting

Tickets which can be brought online at www.historium.be or in the Historium cost € 12 for an adult € 7.50 a child (3-14) and €35 for a family ticket ( 2 adults & up to 3 children under 14) For wheelchair users the €12 admission cost includes a free ticket for an accompanying person.

15th Century Brugge in 360

And now with the Historium VR City app  and Google Cardboard you can see 6 locations around Bruges as they were in the 15th century.  Carboard viewers are included in the price of a Comi ticket at € 19.90 and can also be purchased in the Historium shop.

 

My visit came compliments of Historium Brugge

 

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