The Provincial Court, neo-Gothic splendor on Bruges’ Market Square

In our continuing series of articles about interesting building, monuments and sites in our region this time we visit the Provincial Court in the West Flemish capital Bruges. As ever VRT News’ photographer Alexander Dumarey has supplied us with some excellent photographs.

Without any doubt the best-known building on Bruges’ historic Market Square is the Belfry. Nevertheless, the square also boasts a number of other buildings that are as interesting as they are impressive. One such building is the Provincial Court that has dominate the eastern side of the Market Square for over a hundred years. 

In 1850 the provincial authorities in West Flanders bought ‘Huis De Brock’ on the Market Place in Bruges. A council chamber was built on the courtyard at the rear of ‘Huis De Brock’. For the first time the provincial council was able to meet in its very own council chamber rather than in the Gothic Hall of Bruges Town Hall. 

In 1878 ‘Huis De Brock’ and the council chamber in what was its courtyard were devastated by fire. The Catholic Party that ran the provincial council at the time saw this as an opportunity. ‘Huis De Brock’ had a façade that was built in classical style something had long been a thorn in the side of Catholic Party politicians. They favoured Gothic architecture as they considered this to be the style that best reflected the city’s glorious past.

It was decided that the space that had come free as a result of the fire on the eastern side of the Market Square should be used to construct a neo-Gothic complex that would comprise the Provincial Court, a post office and offices of the Bridges and Roads Service. 

The Provincial Court was designed by the Bruges city architect Louis Delacenserie, best-known for later work designing Antwerp Central Station, and the West Flemish provincial architect René Buyck. The plans were passed in 1886 and construction work started a year later. 

However, budgetary constraints meant that in the first instance only the central section and the right-hand wing of the Provincial Court were build. This part of the building entered use in 1892. Work on the left-hand wing didn’t start until 1914. World War I delayed work on the left-hand wing and it wasn’t fully completed until 1921.

Currently the building is mostly closed to the public. However, this is set to change in the coming years. From 2021, the ground floor will house a provincial information centre about West Flanders. The upper floors will be used for events. Before then the Provincial Court will undergo a complete renovate. Work is due to start next year.