The Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge lies off the North Sea in northwest Belgium, and it is the foundation for the economy of the City of Bruges. The Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge is located about 61 nautical miles (99 kilometers or 62 miles direct) southwest of the Port of Rotterdam. The Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge is also about 80 nautical miles (about 150 kilometers or 92 miles direct) southeast of the Port of Felixstowe in southeast England.
The home city of the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge has a small oval-shaped historic city center covering about 430 hectares that is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the past, the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge was known as the world's "chief commercial city." The Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge is called by some "The Venice of the North" due to its canal-based nature. At Zeebrugge (meaning Burges on the Sea), the city occupies some thousand hectares of off-shore space. In 2008, the population of the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge's city center was about twenty thousand, and the total population was over 117 thousand.
In the 7th Century AD, the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge was a landing place on the Zwijn estuary. Described at the ?Venice of the North? due to its network of canals, the first counts of Flanders built a castle there in the 9th Century to ward off Norman invaders.
The Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge had a monopoly on English wool by the 13th Century, and it was an important trade center for the Hanseatic League. In the 14th Century, it reached its historical commercial peak as the Zwijn began to silt up. The 15th Century brought decline to the trade center, but the counts of Flanders (dukes of Burgundy) maintained their powerful court there. The 16th Century brought the end of the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge's importance to Medieval Europe.
Until the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge was opened in 1907, it was a drowsy medieval town. When the port opened, a new era of industry, trade, and tourism began. Occupied by the Germans during both World Wars, the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge was a target for the British and Allied forces.
The Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge economy is dependent on tourism, but a new industrial area is producing ships, electronics, yeast, and industrial glass to complement its traditional spinning, lace-making, and weaving.
Medieval reminders remain in the city, including the old Market Hall boasting a 47-bell carillon and the Town Hall. The Chapel of the Holy Blood is said to hold drops of Jesus' blood won in the Holy Land in the 12th Century. Several Medieval churches still stand there, including the 1428 replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Church of Jerusalem. The Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge also contains many museums boasting fine collections of Flemish art and history. The Memling Museum is located in the 12th Century Hospital of St. John.
In the late 1800s, Belgium began to construct a new port on the coast of the North Sea to include three parts: an outer port (Zeebrugge), a canal between the outer port and Bruges, and an inner port in Bruges. Construction began in 1886 and ended in 1905. For the first years, traffic at the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge was slow, with as few as 200 ships calling at port due to the lack of connections to inland transportation.
The Palace Hotel was opened to serve wealthy cruise passengers, especially Germans, in 1914. Unfortunately, Germans did arrive. World War I German forces turned the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge into a base of operations for their submarine fleet, stationing a thousand men there. In 1917, when Britain tired of the damage German submarines caused, Vice-Admiral Keyes brought a force of 1800 on 168 ships to assault the port. They sunk three cruisers filled with cement at the mouth of the harbor, disabling the powerful submarine fleet.
After World War I, the port was in ruins. By 1920, however, it was open again to ships, and trade resumed. The Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge was the port of departure for Belgium's fleet of Congo ships. By 1929, silting threatened the busy port, and the Belgian government began dredging operations. That year, the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge handled over one million tons of goods carried on more than a thousand ships.
The worldwide economic crisis of the 1930s brought a slow-down in development of the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge, complicated by strive between the City of Bruges and the Port Authority. Despite the hardships, the second half of the 1930s saw the appearance of a new molasses terminal, a fuel terminal, and a steel plant.
The Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge played an important role in World War II as well. Before German troops arrived this time, ships were sunk to block the harbor and the lock gates were destroyed. The Germans made repairs, though, and turned the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge into a fortified castle. As liberation approached, they largely destroyed the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge rather than have the Allies benefit from it.
It took several years to repair the damage done by the Germans, and reconstruction was not finished until 1951. However, since the 1950s, the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge has continued to flourish. In 1961, the Sinclair Petroleum Terminal was opened, and the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge was able to service the new bigger oil tankers.
Development boomed in the late 1960s as larger ships and new technologies (roll-on/roll-off and containerized cargo) appeared. In 1964, a British shipping company set up freight and passenger ferry service to Dover and Felixstowe, and the North Sea Ferries established regular service to Hull in 1972.
American corporate giant Texaco selected the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge as a port of call for its supertankers. It installed a pipeline from the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge to its Ghent refinery, and the first tanker arrived in 1968.
Container traffic arrived at the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge in 1971 at the Short Sea Container Terminal. In 1971, a new major port expansion was undertaken. By 1985, the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge had a new outer port, the Pierre Vandamme lock, two new fully-equipped large docks in the inner port, and a variety of new terminals to handle, store, and distribute cars, general cargo, bulk cargoes, and containers. In 1985, 14 million tons of cargo passed through the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge.