Bruges, Belgium, is one of Europe’s best preserved cities. It was described by UNESCO as “an outstanding example of medieval historic settlement” when Bruges was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2000. It is located about 60 miles (100 km) west of Antwerp. Bruges is the capital of West Flanders and was a former financial and trade center of the Hanseatic League. Bruges grew to prominence in the 13th and 14th centuries, but lost its important role to nearby Antwerp when its link to the North Sea filled with silt. Nicknamed the “Venice of the North”, the town is crisscrossed by canals that are in turn decorated with graceful swans bobbing in the wake of excursion boats. Much of the Old Town is pedestrian-only, which made it very easy to explore the city on foot.
“The Madonna of Bruges is a marble sculpture by Michelangelo of Mary with the Child Jesus. Michelangelo’s depiction of the Madonna and Child differs significantly from earlier representations of the same subject, which tended to feature a pious Virgin smiling down on an infant held in her arms. Instead, Jesus stands upright, almost unsupported, only loosely restrained by Mary’s left hand, and appears to be about to step away from his mother. Meanwhile, Mary does not cling to her son or even look at him, but gazes down and away. It is believed the work was originally intended for an altar piece…Madonna and Child shares certain similarities with Michelangelo’s Pieta, which was completed shortly before — mainly, the chiaroscuro effect and movement of the drapery. The long, oval face of Mary is also reminiscent of the Pietà. The work is also notable in that it was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. It was bought by Giovanni and Alessandro Moscheroni (Mouscron), from a family of wealthy cloth merchants in Bruges, then one of the leading commercial cities in Europe. The sculpture was sold for 4,000 florin….[The sculpture was removed] in 1944, during World War II, with the retreat of German soldiers, who smuggled the sculpture to Germany enveloped in mattresses in a Red Cross truck. It was discovered a year later in Altaussee/Austria and again returned. It now sits in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium. This is part of the fact-based movie The Monuments Men.” — Wikipedia
“In the last half of the 19th century, Bruges became one of the world’s first tourist destinations attracting wealthy British and French tourists. By 1909 it had in operation an association called ‘Bruges Forward: Society to Improve Tourism.’ After 1965 the original medieval city experienced a renaissance. Restorations of residential and commercial structures, historic monuments, and churches generated a surge in tourism and economic activity in the ancient downtown area. International tourism has boomed, and new efforts have resulted in Bruges being designated ‘European Capital of Culture’ in 2002. It attracts some 2 million tourists annually.” – Wikipedia