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Bruges Swans near the Beguinage.
© Jan D'Hondt / VisitBruges

The legend of the swans

When you walk through the city, you might see beautiful swans; Bruges' symbols of wealth and power since the 15th century.

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.

Swans at the beguinage “Ten Wijngaarde”. – © Jan D'Hondt / VisitBruges
Swans at the beguinage “Ten Wijngaarde”. – © Jan D'Hondt / VisitBruges