During the 19th century, Bruges is discovered by a new group of visitors: tourists. They are charmed by the picturesque city with its old houses, squares and narrow streets. Associations start organising tourism campaigns to attract even more visitors, and the city council subsequently joins them in their efforts.
The past also serves as inspiration to enhance the city’s appearance. This is done in a brand-new building style that harks back to the Middle Ages: the neo-Gothic. It reinforces Bruges' medieval character. Exhibitions and museums highlight the city’s glorious past. The Gruuthusemuseum dates back to this period.
The city also attempts to revive the economic boom of yesteryear. Top of the wish list: a new connection to the sea. This is finally achieved in 1907 with the inauguration of the port of Zeebrugge.
The 19th century is an extraordinary and defining period for Bruges. The choices made during this era still determine the way the city looks today.
The story begins in the 1850s, which is also the period when this book is published in Bruges. The city and many other owner-builders decide to resolutely opt for the neo-Gothic. The style alludes to Bruges' illustrious, Gothic Middle Ages. Many white plastered façades make way for brick. They were too evocative of French classicism. The local authorities provide subsidies, the press promotes the neo-gothic style, and archaeologists join them in advocating the restoration of Bruges' medieval identity.
Promotion of the neo-Gothic also comes from Catholic circles. After all, the style is symbolic of its many Gothic churches. The neo-Gothic reinforces Bruges' traditional Catholic character.
The book is the French version of an English book: The true principles of pointed or Christian architecture. This standard work on 19th-century neo-Gothic architecture is written by Augustus Welby Pugin. He, too, is inspired by the Gothic Middle Ages. Les vrais principes, the French adaptation is produced by the English architect Thomas King. He also devotes attention to the applied arts: clothing and tableware among other things. And this book, distributed internationally, also mentions makers from Bruges!
The neo-Gothic return to Bruges' heyday is in keeping with the cultural-tourism image the city develops in the 19th century.
This museum building dates primarily from two periods. At the end of the 19th century, the medieval Gruuthuse palace undergoes a radical neo-Gothic facelift, led by this man: the architect Louis Delacenserie. He devises the loggia, for example, which you can reach from this room. He saw it in some old drawings, but in a different location in the building...
If you walk through Bruges today, there are many places where you will see the neo-Gothic hand of Delacenserie. He becomes city architect in 1870 and trains many young architects. He supervises numerous restorations and new construction projects in the city, such as the Provincial Court on Markt, the Minnewater Hospital, and the State Normal School in Sint-Jorisstraat... Old buildings are given a neo-Gothic makeover, to make them look more medieval. This is also the time when the city starts giving private individuals grants for so-called 'artistic repairs', restorations that enhance the city’s heritage. These grants still exist today.
Like many prominent men, Delacenserie was a member of the Société Archéologique de Bruges - Bruges' Archaeological Society, which laid the foundations for this museum. Here's another intriguing fact: during the 1860s, when he was still a young architect, Delacenserie designed a large part of a new city district, near the new Bruges theatre, in ... the classicist style. It would later come to be despised in Bruges, even by Delacenserie himself.
Making Bruges more medieval. Harking back to the glory days. This is the ambition of many residents of Bruges during the 19th century. They conduct historical research in archives, and amass collections that illustrate the city's history and highlight the illustrious Middle Ages. This museum is one of the results. It is no coincidence that the earliest collectors search for, among other things, medieval objects.
The Archaeological Society of Bruges, initially develops the museum with people such as James Weale and Adolf Duclos. Here, you can see the badges worn by the first museum guards, with the corresponding chain.
The purpose of the collections is to study them, and in the 19th century, they are also increasingly shown to the public, in museums and at prestigious exhibitions. This is still the case. However, during this period collections serve another purpose: many objects are used as stylistic examples for craftsmen, and as a source of inspiration for industry. Craftsmen also study the Gruuthusemuseum collections, which are quite diverse: ranging from archaeology and the visual arts, to examples of architecture, furniture, tableware and clothing...
British-born James Weale is the quintessential 19th-century citizen of Bruges. Weale settles in the city in 1856, at the age of 24. He becomes an advocate of the neo-Gothic and promotes Bruges tourism, with his city guide Bruges et ses environs (Bruges and its surroundings). And he is very active in Bruges heritage circles, as a researcher and what we now call a 'visitor-experience coordinator': James Weale compiles various museum and exhibition catalogues. What's more, he is a pioneer of research into the art of the Flemish Primitives.
Neo-Gothic, cultural tourism, research into Bruges' past: these are the three themes that feature in this room. James Weale is their embodiment. He signs the Archaeological Society of Bruges' Statute Book of 1865 as co-founder. His signature appears alongside that of, among others, the priest-poet Guido Gezelle.
James Weale’s vision extends beyond Bruges. He has an international network and fully engages in the debate on monument conservation in Belgium. He pleads, among other things, for restoration work that focusses on returning an object to its original state. In Bruges his message is heard loud and clear.
During the 19th century, Bruges becomes destination for cultural tourists. Its major assets are history and heritage. Their purpose is to offer Bruges a new future.
Here you can see several prints from the Album pittoresque de Bruges (Picturesque Album of Bruges), a book published in 1837 by Octave Delepierre, consul in London. It’s a collection of cityscapes and pictures of Bruges' most important monuments, aimed at promoting the city. The work has a major impact on how the image of Bruges develops.
The story of Bruges' cultural tourism begins with individuals such as Delepierre. And with the English, who discover Bruges in the early 19th century. They are charmed by the quiet, historical, beautifully preserved but inexpensive city. Bruges becomes a popular travel destination, also due to its favourable location near the coast. Many English families reside here for a while. An English colony springs up, comprising over a thousand people, with its own schools, associations and ... tea rooms.
Later, during the 1880s, new associations stimulate tourism in Bruges. They publish travel guides, organise events and promote Bruges' art treasures abroad. Eventually, the local authorities give tourism their full support. At the same time, many people are becoming increasingly mobile.
Along with the port, tourism in Bruges becomes an important socio-economic factor. And this fits perfectly with its third major asset: Bruges' medieval identity. Because this constitutes the city’s touristic appeal. There is a snowball effect: many tourists testify to their special ties with the old Bruges, in words and with images. And their accounts reinforce Bruges' reputation as a medieval city.
When you think about ‘tourism’, ‘tourist guides' automatically spring to mind. In 1883, Bruges local Adolf Duclos published his handy visitor’s guide Bruges en trois jours. Promenades dans la Venise du Nord (Bruges in three days. Walks through Venice of the North). With city maps and in the same pocket-sized format we still use today.
Duclos is a pioneer: he is the first person to design city walks. He describes the classic sights and gives lots of practical tips: where can you find the post office and good bookshops? Where can you get a good meal and find a comfortable place to stay? Where can you listen to the best carillon concerts? Where do the carriages stop? Where can you buy lace? He goes on to produce the guide Bruges en un jour
(Bruges in a day), and a guide that is tailored to English travellers. Duclos focuses on the wealthy, the only people that can afford to travel at the time.
Adolf Duclos is an authoritative voice in Bruges debates and also contributes to this fledgling museum. He is a staunch supporter of restorations that are faithful to the pure style: in his opinion, all later additions should be removed from medieval buildings. His life's work Bruges, histoire et souvenirs (Bruges, a history and memories) provides a detailed account of Bruges' architectural history. He has a special fondness for brick façades. Duclos also develops historical processions, spectacles that attract many tourists, such as the Guldensporenstoet (Procession of the Golden Spurs).