Coordinates: 51 13 N 3 13 E
Population: 117,025 (2004 est.)
Earlier this month a new crime caper opened in theaters across the country with a rather unusual setting. Instead of a menacing metropolis teeming with villains and oozing with urban grit and gloom, director Martin McDonagh chose to shoot his film in the medieval Belgian city that appears in the title: Bruges. A flourishing center of trade way back in the thirteenth century, this powerful commercial hub saw its fortunes fade late in the fifteenth century when the wool industry declined and the silting of the River Zywn deprived merchants of their previously-enjoyed access to the North Sea. Today, this small Flemish city’s canals and cobblestone streets are more likely to see traffic from tourists (and perhaps the occasional hitman) than members of the Hanseatic League, while its chapels and cathedrals probably lure more aspiring photographers than pious pilgrims.
Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.