No matter where we go, I absolutely love climbing towers and Callum, although mildly afraid of heights, thoroughly enjoys it too, or at least he has learnt to over the years! And since we were stood in the centre of Bruges, with the UNESCO world heritage beffroi looming over us, we couldn’t resist heading up this one too. Obviously a busy attraction, it was an extremely well organised set-up but a pricey one too. Actually, it was probably the most expensive bell tower we have climbed to date.
The Belfry is Bruges’ most important tower, built around 1240, a devastating fire near ruined the original and it was largely rebuilt in 1280. The octagonal upper section was added between 1483 and 1487. At the time it was capped with a wooden spire, unfortunately it didn’t last long as it suffered a lightning strike in 1493. Another wooden spire was added, this one lasting around 250 years before also perishing in a fire in 1741. After this point the spire was never replaced and so the building stands a little lower today than it did in previous centuries, however a Gothic Revival style stone parapet was added to the rooftop in 1822.
Through an archway we entered the courtyard, finding our direction we made our way through well-defined queuing spaces with approx. waiting times signed at regular intervals. From what we saw of all the restaurants on the square, most people were eating lunch and so we walked straight in and joined a line of around 10-15 people. They had a mechanised ‘one in, one out’ system, ensuring it never became dangerously busy in the narrow stairwells – a blessing really (especially for my 6ft1 rugby playing companion!)
Starting as a typical wooden staircase with banister, we spiralled squarely amidst the huge timbers. Every so often we would be deposited out into a small room. The red brick and low lighting made for an atmospherically gloomy interior as we explored the nooks and crannies of each space. Each room had something of interest – history about the site, the Carillion with 47 melodious bells, the clock mechanism etc. I love seeing the intricate engineering of these things; it always amazes me when I consider the people at the time building something so complex and so huge at such a height, with none of the technologies of today – very impressive!
Gaining height the stairs altered and we found ourselves climbing a more typical, mildly claustrophobic spiral staircase to the highest reaches of the belfry. Fortunately we didn’t come across too many people coming down as we ascended, despite it being a very busy attraction, and we swiftly made out way to the top platform and the fantastic views.
It was a slightly overcast day, but this just seemed to enhance the orange roofs of the surrounding buildings and the spattering of green trees amongst them. Other towers pierced the horizon while people moved through the streets like ants. The narrow roads appeared even more so from this height, the houses crowding around these thin veins running through the city, their roofs, varying in design from house to house, clustered together. It’s always nice to watch the world go by from a lofty position.
The downside of Bruges Belfry is the metal, chain link style fencing they have put up, of course you can still enjoy the views through it but it does make it feel rather caged-in up there. The busyness meant that you couldn’t stop for long to enjoy the views as someone was always waiting (or in some cases just pushing in front of you) to take a selfie with the view – understandably, I suppose, as the views are great.
We didn’t hang around too long at the top before making our way back towards the ground level, enjoying the decent as much as the ascent. We stopped in to have another look at the Carillion and bells on the way down and then in no time at all we were back in the bustling streets, surrounded by people and looking up at the architecture, instead of down.