The medieval Smedenpoort, or “Blacksmith’s Gate,” dates back to 1297, and is one of the four remaining city gates of Bruges. Look closely at the upper lefthand corner above the arch and you’ll notice a morbid curiosity: A bronzed human skull is affixed to the gate’s yellow brick facade.
It is a replica of the skull of an executed traitorous statesman whose head was prominently displayed as a warning to the people. In 1691, hostile French troops had gathered near Bruges but could not infiltrate the city’s ramparts. They conspired with Belgian statesman François van der Straeten to enter the city through the Smedenpoort.
Unfortunately for the conspirators, the plot was discovered and relayed to the city council. François van der Straeten was arrested on June 26, 1691, and hanged. His head was dipped in bronze and then hung from an iron pin on the gate as exemplum justitiae.
The skull disappeared during the French Revolution and was rediscovered in 1876. The remnants of the original skull are housed in the Archaeological Museum in Bruges, and a bronze replica now hangs on the Smedenpoort.
Know Before You Go
The gate that stands today was rebuilt in 1367 in place of the original 1297 gate. It has been restored several times over the centuries. The skull that hangs on the gate is a replica of the original.
The Smedenpoort is located on the edge of the west side of the city. The other western gate, Ezelpoort, is about 2 kilometers away. The other two original gates are located on the eastern side of town: Kruispoort, at Langestraat 191, and Gentpoort at Gentpoortstraat.