Bruges as a trading centre
The connectedness with the sea runs like a thread through the rich history of Bruges.
The early history begins about 10,000 years before the present day, when the North Sea was created by the warming of the poles and rising sea levels. This formed the delta of the great currents. Around about 500 B.C., the sea inundated the new coastal plain on various occasions. Creeks and channels were formed, along which ships could reach inland.
Thanks to its favourable location and connection to the sea, in the early Middle Ages Bruges developed into an international and industrious trading city with a port.
However, in 1134, the land north and northeast of Bruges was again inundated, giving the city an even better connection to the sea. The 'Sincfal' creek was cut deeper and given a new name: het Zwin. Via het Zwin, large ships could sail safely as far as Damme, the outport of Bruges. Moreover, this natural connection facilitated supplies to the city. A network of canals, called the 'reien', made it possible to bring merchandise to the centre.
Well into the 16th century, Bruges remained the most important trading centre in northwestern Europe.
However, the city subsequently endured a period of poverty. One of the reasons was the silting up of het Zwin, the lifeline for maritime accessibility. Other ports such as Antwerp, Hamburg and Bremen developed and gradually took over Bruges' trading role.