Medieval Bruges has been coined as “the cradle of capitalism”, a place where goods, ideas and people converged into a unique, international and productive environment. The development of the city into one of Europe’s main commercial hubs was only possible via its connection to the North Sea. A tidal inlet, called the Zwin, linked Bruges to the rest of Europe and beyond and was dotted with a series of outports at its banks. Each one of these harbours had a particular role to play in a strongly connected socio-economic network dominated by Bruges. Natural, political and economic factors all resulted in the eventual downfall of Bruges and the Zwin in the 16th century. The outports shrunk from cities into hamlets or even disappeared entirely from the landscape. The modern-day remains of the former vital artery of Bruges are now preserved in the landscape on both sides of the Belgian-Dutch border. In an effort to revive this lost harbour system in the most accurate way, an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, (art) historians and geologists teamed up with local experts and creative artists. The result of this collaborative action is a cycle tour taking visitors in the landscape on both sides of border, and enriched which VR viewers visualize what is now lost, and a temporary exhibition, where innovative technologies introduce the visitors to new insights on the medieval Zwin and the many people who lived and traded there.
The main aim of the ‘Lost Ports of the Zwin’ project is not only to bring the results of interdisciplinary scientific research to the wider audience, but foremost to create holistic immersive experiences that draw the visitors’ attention to the profound transformations of the local coastal landscape, the human resilience and the continuous adaption to new coastal landscape-conditions through time. We aspire to recreate, reveal and display the unique but disappeared and invisible medieval maritime cultural landscape. To do so, we are integrating a wide range of immersive experiences and educational interventions in a multi-activity manner. As a result, we can target a wide range of visitors and AR/VR-consumers; both active and passive, both young and old; and both layman and expert. Moreover, the variety of applications and instruments is tailored specifically to impact visitors of the region on a long term, surpassing the duration of a temporary exposition. All of this has been developed in 4 languages (English, Dutch, French and German), aiming to attract visitors from all over Europe. This way, the project gives a much-needed incentive to relaunch the local economy in post-COVID times and is equally reflective of the melting pot of cultures that constituted the medieval Zwin.
The project includes a cycle tour along the shores of the medieval Zwin accompanied by a Web App and two permanent indoor VR viewers.