A reception set up in the ruins of St. Donatian’s Church, now a Crowne Plaza. Photo by the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
For nearly one thousand years a massive stone church sat on Bruges’ Burg square. It was destroyed about 200 years ago, but parts of it remain today under a Crowne Plaza Hotel and can be visited for free.
Bruges’ Underground Church
Back around 900 AD, the city built a fort to protect itself from pesky Vikings who were raiding the city. Not long after, the very large and central St. Donatian’s Church was built on top of the fort and remained a place of worship until Napoleon ripped it down in 1799. Soon after, parts of the church were auctioned off.
Jump ahead to 1982, when the city’s Crowne Plaza Hotel was built on the site of St. Donatian’s. During the construction and excavation process, parts of the ancient fort’s foundations were discovered. Structures from the church were also uncovered, including the choir gallery, which was excavated in 1988.
The hotel has converted the basement into conference and reception rooms, lined by the ancient walls, and lit with a touch of drama. They’ve also put on display various relics unearthed in the area, many of which belonged to the church. Paintings show St. Donatian’s in all its glory.
Touring St. Donatian’s
As long as there isn’t a conference in session, visitors can tour the ruins simply by asking at the Crowne Plaza’s front desk.
When we visited recently, a nice porter led us downstairs and turned on the lights. We checked out the ancient walls, drawings, and other relics. Granted, the fresh carpeting, new ceiling, and conference tables can detract from the history on display, but just turn your attention to those walls!
Also see: Our recommended budget hotels in Bruges.