Although held by the Romans, Bruges appears to have been very small and of little significance until the 9th century, when coins bearing its name began to appear. It seems that its reputation as a port was the main reason for its growth, which was so great that Bruges was declared a city in 1128. Continued expansion followed, and the city became known internationally for trading wool, weaving and cloth. It also became something of a cultural center, as William Caxton was in Bruges when he printed the very first book in English.
Following these years of rapid growth, Bruges started to see a decline in its fortunes. The lace trade and its associated industry took off in the 17th century, but this was not enough to reverse the trend, and by the late 19th century the population had declined by 75%.
However, Bruges began to attract Belgium's wealthy citizens around this time, as well as rich people from France and England who visited the city as a tourist destination. This coincided with the construction of the Port of Zeebrugge in 1907, which now boasts a reputation as one of Europe's most important and most modern ports. Nowadays, beautiful Bruges has many reminders of its prosperous past, as much of its medieval architecture has been preserved.
The historic center of Bruges became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Here you can find the Church of Our Lady, which due to its spire is one of the world's tallest brick buildings. The historic center is also home to Michaelangelo's Madonna and Child. There is also the famed belfry, which has a 48-strong bell carillon. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is also renowned, and is a strongly recommended visit.