Bruges and Ghent (2)

Both Bruges and Ghent have glorious - but also blood drenched - histories. From the early Middle Ages on, they were among the main European commercial hives and centers of culture and arts.

Both Bruges and Ghent whittered away from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Decay started with the wars of religion, when a large part of the educated classes, converted to protestantism, fled to the Netherlands and other havens of tolerance, and when a large part of the priceless art treasures of previous ages were destroyed. Society was almost decapitate

Ghent had a major industrial revival after one of its most famous sons, Lieven Bauwens, an industrial spy, brought a spinning mule and skilled workers from England to the European continent (Paris and Ghent) late in the 18th century. The guy - who if my memory serves me right was condemned to death in England - became a leading industrialist.

The new industrial "élite" born out of the development of the textile industry tore down a large part of the historical city to build plants, big houses for themselves and slum dwellings for the working class.

Bruges had "no such luck" ; the city remained largely untouched and most of its population lived in abject poverty until the development of the tourist industry, when its old city center became its main trump card.

And Ghent continued to demolish its patrimonium - I remember a couple of scandals during my student years, and even more recently. It is not so long ago, three or four decades at the most, that Ghent has come to understand the importance of its patrimonium.

Both cities had their problems, their hours of glory and decay. No reason to start another quarrel.

But cooperation ... that runs against centuries of quarrels and fights.

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