Medieval Punishments in Bizarre Belgium

Carson Cook is a student at the University of Tennessee- Chattanooga and a current ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Brussels, Belgium. 

Belgium, I love you. But you’ve got a weird sense of humor (as if that wasn’t obvious by the fact one of your most popular tourist attractions is a tiny statue of a boy peeing). In fact, I think I love Belgium not in spite of, but because of its quirks. These two stories are perfect examples of bizarre Belgium.

The Swans of Bruges

In northwest Belgium, lies the small, beautiful city of Bruges. Today, Bruges is filled with a mixture of students and tourist, but in the 15th century, it was a major trading city. In 1482, fighting broke out between the citizens of Bruges and the Austrian Emperor Maximillian, who controlled the city at the time. Maximillian was put under house arrest and his advisor, Pieter Lanchals was tortured and executed.

The emperor eventually escaped and resurrected his control, but here’s where the story gets funny. In Dutch Lanchals or “lange hals” translates to long neck, or swans. So as punishment for the rebellion, Emperor Maximillion decreed that the city must always keep swans on its lakes and canals. Today, you can still easily see swans on many of the lakes in Bruges.

More than 500 years later, swans are still everywhere in Bruges.

The Ghent Noose-wearers

Located between Bruges and Brussels is another picturesque city of Ghent. In 1539, about half a century after the rebellion in Bruges, the citizens of Ghent revolted against their ruler, Emperor Charles V because of his high taxes. After the Emperor squashed the rebellion, he forced the Ghent nobles to parade barefoot around the city with a noose around their necks. While at the time it might have been embarrassing, today the noose is a symbol of pride for the people of Ghent. They hold reenactments of the first noose-wearers, or Stroppendragers” in Dutch, and some people hang a noose in their rear-view window.

A view of the three towers of Ghent from Gravensteen Castle.

In both cases, stubbornness and rebelliousness seem to be Belgian traits, and the strange punishments inflicted on their medieval ancestors are sources of pride today.

Watching the sun set over the Canal in Ghent.

The world awaits…discover it.

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