This elegant, huge building occupies a large part of the Market Square.
Let’s go back in time for a moment. First, there was a building named the Waterhall. The city of Bruges was an exceptional commercial center in the 12th century. The river crisscrossed the city and was the common thread for the exchange of goods. Here, the Waterhall, built at the end of the 13th century, was a covered place to transfer goods from the waterway to land. In other words, it was a warehouse. This square was the heart of negotiations, imports and transactions. However, over the years, it was noticed that the flow of the river varied. Some parts dried up and consequently had a major impact on the accessibility. During the 18th century, the trading center was transferred to a nearby town, the water flow redirected and the site was abandoned and eventually demolished in 1787.
Another building took place but not the one you see today. The site was occupied by the provincial palace where the governor of West Flanders resided, but was devastated by fire in 1878.
Finally, the structure you have in front of you was built starting in 1887. The project included not only the seat of the municipal government which sat there until 1999 but also the post office, right next to it. The red brick building, which still says “Posterjen”, was built at the same time as the palace but is now converted into a drug store (pharmacy). On the other side of the provincial court is also a relatively particular building now converted into a museum, the Historium, where an overview is given of what was happening in 1435. Accessing this building gives you access to a balcony overlooking the square. The complex surrounding the Provinciaal Hof (Provincial Court) was not completed until 1920.
There were great debates on the use, the future and even the sale of the old municipal assembly location, which did not find takers from the various levels of government. However, the desire for conservation was so strong in the community that, currently, major renovations are taking place to promote accessibility and bring this large space back to life in such a popular square. A mix of a museum that will focus on West Flanders is planned. The renovations are expected to be completed in 2024.
Knowing that its exterior envelope is very remarkable and the main entrance is guarded by two lions defines high expectations of finding a rich and sophisticated interior. Only time will let us know if your anticipations have been true.
The exterior envelope of the building shows architectural similarities with the town hall on Burg Square.
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