The legend of the swans
After the death of Mary of Burgundy (1482), Bruges went through some troubled times. The townspeople, enraged by the new taxes Emperor Maximilian of Austria, Mary’s successor, had imposed upon them, rose in revolt against their new ruler. As Maximilian was locked up in House Craenenburg on the Market Square, he helplessly witnessed the torture and eventual beheading of his bailiff and trusted councillor Pieter Lanchals - known as Long Neck.
An old legend says that the Emperor eventually escaped and later took his revenge on the local people by forcing them to keep ‘long necks’, or swans, on the canals for eternity. In reality, however, swans have been swimming on the canals since the beginning of the 15th century, when they were seen as a status symbol of the city’s power and wealth.