We recently had the pleasure of visiting some family in France and managed a short trip to Bruges, Belgium. There are several interesting things to do in Bruges; it's a great city that everyone should visit at least once. I can't believe that Hitler actually ordered one of his commanders to the destroy the city when they were retreating during WWII. Thank goodness the general refused.
One of my favorite parts of our visit was the climb to the top of the belfry of Bruges which is located in Market Square. Kristin and I ventured up the tower on our second day in the city. I knew we had quite a set of stairs to climb (366 to be exact) and I was overly curious after Colin Farrell's portrayal of the tower in the movie, In Bruges. What I didn't expect was an impressive timber frame hidden inside.
First of all, the structure has gone through several modifications over the past 775 years. It was originally constructed in 1240. The upper wooden spire and bells were added around 1487. There have been a few tragic fires over the years and the spire was reconstructed each time. The upper spire that stands today was built 275 years ago. Inside, the timber frame system supports 27.5 tons of bells. The bells are part of everyday life in Bruges and their main purpose is to mark time. Historically, they have also been used to mark work hours, events and even fire alarms.
It was truly unexpected when I first stepped foot into the spire and saw the timber framing. It came as no surprise to Kristin that I went into "wood" mode, visually grading timbers (a classic combination of select structural, No.1 and No.2's), determining the species (oak), pointing out checks and splits. Kristin, to her credit, even pointed out some old powder-post beetle activity.
When we got to the top of the tower, we were just in time. It was 2pm. I can't describe the bell system other than saying "it's complicated." The view at the top provides 360 degrees of the city and surrounding area.
The belfy of Bruges is a testament to the durability and engineering use of timbers. If you are ever traveling near Belgium, make Bruges a stop on your itinerary and check out the tower.