In Bruges (Brugge), the survival of exquisite medieval buildings provides a vivid architectural record of 16th-century Europe.
Yet that survival is the result of a commercial decline that lasted for nearly 400 years. By the early 16th century, the Zwin
river, which linked Bruges and its elegant canals to the North Sea, could not be navigated because of silting; the successful
cloth trade had declined, and local and foreign traders moved their businesses to the flourishing port of Antwerp. There was
no wealth with which to modernize the venerable townscape. We can thank the rough handling of history for a city that delights
with the completeness of its medieval street plan and its ornate buildings, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.