Golden Age

Bruges got its city charter on July 27, 1128 and new walls and canals were built. Since about 1050, gradual silting had caused the city to lose its direct access to the sea. A storm in 1134, however, re-established this access, through the creation of a natural channel at the Zwin. The new sea arm stretched all the way to Damme, a city that became the commercial outpost for Bruges.

With the reawakening of town life in the twelfth century, a wool market, a woollens weaving industry, and the market for cloth all profited from the shelter of city walls, where surpluses could be safely accumulated under the patronage of the counts of Flanders. Bruges was already included in the circuit of the Flemish cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century. The city's entrepreneurs reached out to make economic colonies of England and Scotland's wool-producing districts. English contacts brought Normandy grain and Gascon wines. Hanseatic ships filled the harbor, which had to be expanded beyond Damme to Sluys to accommodate the new cog-ships.

In 1277, the first merchant fleet from Genoa appeared in the port of Bruges, first of the merchant colony that made Bruges the main link to the trade of the Mediterranean. This development opened not only the trade in spices from the Levant, but also advanced commercial and financial techniques and a flood of capital that soon took over the banking of Bruges. The Bourse opened in 1309 (most likely the first stock exchange in the world) and developed into the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries in the 14th century. By the time Venetian galleys first appeared, in 1314, they were latecomers.

16th century onwards

Starting around 1500, the Zwin channel, which had given the city its prosperity, also started silting. The city soon fell behind Antwerp as the economic flagship of the Low Countries. During the 17th century, the lace industry took off, and various efforts to bring back the glorious past were made. During the 1650s, the city was the base for Charles II of England and his court in exile.[11] The maritime infrastructure was modernized, and new connections with the sea were built, but without much success. Bruges became impoverished and gradually disappeared from the picture, with its population dwindling from 200,000 to 50,000 by the end of the 1800s.