Brugse Vrije

From this mansion, erected between 1722 and 1727, Bruges’ rural surroundings were governed. The building functioned as a court of justice between 1795 and 1984. Today the city archives are stored here. They safeguard Bruges’ written memory. The premises also boast an old assize court and a renaissance hall with a monumental 16th-century timber, marble and alabaster fireplace made by Lanceloot Blondeel.


At the end of the 14th century, the Brugse Vrije (Free Region of Bruges) formed part of the County of Flanders, one of the Four Members of Flanders together with Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres. The government of the Brugse Vrije first assembled on Burg Square, where so many civilian, municipal, and ecclesiastical official buildings were. In the 15th century the Vrije was moved to the former ducal home known as the ‘Love’. The complex was extended in 1525 with the addition of a court of justice, an alderman’s hall, and a council chamber. A chapel and an orphan room followed later. Later rebuilt in a classical style, the building served as a courthouse until 1934, and was listed in 1938.


A painting by Van Tilborgh shows a session held in the alderman’s chamber. Wearing black robes, the members of the alderman’s jury, sit ready to have their say. Three defendants stand before them, a justiciary at their side.


The alderman’s hall reflects royal power and justice. The enormous fireplace is a tribute to Charles V: life-size paintings and medallions depict his family members, while shields represent places in his empire. Dating from 1528 and designed by Lanceloot Blondeel, the fireplace of oak, marble, and alabaster is one of the most important works of Renaissance art in Bruges.