Medieval Bruges and its associated ports (2013 - 2017)

Medieval Bruges and its associated ports. A landscape-archaeological approach to the Zwin-debate, PhD research Jan Trachet

The medieval port area of ‘Het Zwin’ is a dynamic landscape which has been influenced for centuries by the interaction between men and nature. The broad sea channel of ‘het Zwin’ provided the means for Bruges to grow into an economic and cultural metropolis while also supporting the development of a wide port area with flourishing settlements at the banks of the Zwin-channel. After 1500, the economic importance of Bruges and the surrounding areas diminished due to the increasing silt deposits. The Zwin area lost its function as a harbor and many settlements along it became deserted. The ‘lost villages’ form the subject of the Zwin debate, which has mainly been approached form a historical, pedological and landscape point of view. Despite the importance of this international debate, archaeological input was nonexistent for many  years. The first strong contribution to the debate from an archaeological viewpoint was achieved by the prospection work of Bieke Hillewaert in 1984. This research focused mainly on fieldwalking and the study of surface stray finds. The recent years the discipline of landscapearchaeology has been revolutionized  by the introduction of non-invasive prospection techniques. A combination of traditional and  new non-destructive prospection techniques promises to deliver a broader and more valuable archaeological dataset. With the study of this new data we hope to contribute to a better understanding of the Zwin-area.

FWO-Flanders (total budget 295,000 euro) Middeleeuws Brugge en haar voorhavens. Een landschaps-archeologische benadering van het Zwin-debat [Medieval Bruges and its outports. A landscape-archaeological approach to the debate on the Zwin Estuary] (main supervisor Wim De Clercq (archaeology), co-supervisors Jan Dumolyn, Geert Verhoeven (archaeology), Erik Thoen (history), Marc Van Meirvenne (bio-engineering)

Our research aims are :

  • A cross-disciplinary study of the historical and environmental changes and regression of the area between Bruges and the Zwin estuary.
  • Detecting the exact location, morphology and state of preservation of the ‘lost villages’ in the Zwin area
  • Developing and evaluating an integrated methodology to study submerged landscapes

More information can be found on the website of the project


Jan Trachet

Prof. dr. Wim De Clercq

Prof. dr. Jan Dumolyn

Prof. dr. Erik Thoen

Prof. dr. ir. Marc Van Meirvenne

dr. Geert Verhoeven