The white-coloured houses around a tranquil convent garden with high trees in the middle sends you mentally hundreds of years back in time, to the age of the béguines.
The UNESCO World Heritage List includes more than a thousand properties with outstanding universal value. They are all part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
Date of Inscription: 1998
Category: Cultural site
UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s short description of site no. 855:
The Béguines were women who dedicated their lives to God without retiring from the world. In the 13th century they founded the béguinages , enclosed communities designed to meet their spiritual and material needs. The Flemish béguinages are architectural ensembles composed of houses, churches, ancillary buildings and green spaces, with a layout of either urban or rural origin and built in styles specific to the Flemish cultural region. They are a fascinating reminder of the tradition of the Béguines that developed in north-western Europe in the Middle Ages.
There are actually 13 béguinages spread over the Flanders region of Belgium included in this serial heritage site. They are found here: Bruges, Dendermonde, Diest, Gent, Hoogstraten, Kortrijk, Leuven, Lier, Mechelen, Sint-Amandsberg, Sint-Truiden, Tongeren and Turnhout. Other béguinages in Belgium and also in the Netherlands are not part of this listing.
Anyway, I had the fortune of paying av visit to the béguinage of Bruges (Brugge), called the Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde. It was founded in 1245 and once served as a place to live for emancipated lay-women who wanted a pious life in celibacy. There are no béguines living there anymore, as it since 1927 has been functioning as a Benedictine convent. Most of the buildings date back to the 17th century.
Bruges, or Brugge if you like, is a very beautiful old town and quite often filled to the brim with visitors of all nations. I arrived here in 2017 at a particular popular time of year. The strange thing is that the city within the city, which the béguinage in reality is, turned out to be remarkably quiet. Signs ask us to be keep our voices down and everyone seemed to be obeying that wish. This was a wonderful place to visit.
The story from my visit is yet to be written.