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donderdag 5 december 2013

The Swans of Bruges

I’ve told this story so many times since I started doing tours, let’s finally share it with the world.

When you walk around in Bruges, you can’t miss the presence of the swans on the canals. If you’re lucky, you can find a few at the “picture perfect” spot of Bruges (Rozenhoedkaai). The most idyllic pictures can be taken on those moments. But most of them live near the beguinage. You can always spot them there.

The 1400’s were a troublesome time for Bruges. Mary of Burgundy died (1482) and the “royal” families didn’t get along well.
Maximilian of Austria wanted to have the people of Bruges pay a maximum of taxes. He had his good friend and tax collector Sir Pieter Lanckhals (Sir Peter Longneck) assigned to this job.

Of course, no one wanted to pay those taxes and they captured Sir Longneck and Maximilian. They locked Maximilian in the house “Craenenburg” on the main market square. He had to watch all his friends and other nobility being tortured and killed. His good friend Longneck was one of them. He saw him being beheaded at the market square.

They put the head of Sir Longneck on a spike and had it displayed at the Gentpoort. Yes, those were some cruel dudes back then!

Once Maximilian was freed and back at power, he put a curse on the city of Bruges for their cruelties, especially with the fate of his good friend in mind. The people of Bruges had to keep swans or “longnecks” on their waters, or Bruges would be flooded. Now in those days, the North Sea was a lot closer to the city than it is nowadays. And… maybe the people were a little bit more gullible than we are today.

So, we keep our swans, and we take good care of them.

Fun fact: in the 1970’s an artist (Roger Raveel) made wooden swans and put them on the lake of love (Minnewaterpark) between the real swans, which had problems to survive on the dirty waters. A way to keep away the curse?

I leave you with a little word of warning… You can go up close and personal to the swans, but believe me when I tell you it’s better not to. They look nice, elegant and in some way friendly. But they’re actually mean! They will bite you if you get too close. Especially during breeding season, a lot of swans have a nest along the waters near the beguinage. I’ve seen people putting their kids over the low fence to walk between the swans. Ok, maybe a nice picture, but also a way to get a “funny home video”…