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Several centuries ago, the picturesque historic city of Bruges thrived as a commercial metropolis of Europe. Situated in the northwest of Belgium’s Flanders region, it is now the capital and largest city of the West Flanders province, and the eighth-largest Belgian city by population. As one of Western Europe’s most important cultural and commercial centers, the historic city center of Bruges was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.Bruges is renowned for its remarkably well-preserved Gothic era architecture, which attracts thousands of tourists each year. Historically, Bruges is unique for having retained its original street plan, including its canals and open spaces. An outstanding landmark is the City Hall located on Burg Square, part of the former fortified castle area. Its flamboyant opulence reflects the ancient city’s economic and political importance.A sand-lime brick octagonal watchtower, the Belfry, was built in the 13th century. Imposingly lining the Bruges skyline, it towers above the old market hall, or “Markt.” UNESCO added the Belfry to the World Heritage List in 1999 as part of the “Belfries of Belgium and France” series.A mixture of evolving Gothic styles is evident in the resplendent Bruges’ Church of Our Lady. The spire is one of the largest brickwork towers in the world, built in 1225. Inside, Flemish primitive artworks adorn the inner sanctum, along with the sculpture “Madonna and Child” in white Carrara marble.Bruges’ 12th-century Basilica of the Holy Blood is a perfect example of the lavishness of Gothic-era architecture, with its splendid interior designs of the upper chapel, vivid color schemes, decorative altars, and religious art. Housing perhaps one of the world’s most important relics, the Basilica of the Holy Blood is the keeper of a sealed medieval glass vial containing a cloth stained with the actual blood of Lord Jesus Christ. Once a year, 39 days after Easter, the Feast of the Ascension is observed in Bruges with the Procession of the Holy Blood.