House Bouchoute – Bruges, Belgium - Atlas Obscura
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Bruges, Belgium

House Bouchoute

The compass on its front was a handy tool for 17th-century merchants who needed to know the direction of the wind. 

The oldest house on Bruges’ main square is certainly impressive to look at, as are most buildings along this popular stretch. Turn your gaze toward its roof, and you’ll notice two features many people fail to spot.

On its front facade, just beneath the roof, you’ll see a massive compass that was installed in 1682. But this isn’t your typical compass. Instead of showing the magnetic North, it actually depicts the direction of the wind.

If you pay attention, you’ll see a golden metal flag on the roof. It’s a weather vane that shows the direction of the wind, and it’s connected to the giant compass’ needle. Being able to see the way from which the wind blew was useful for merchants back when Bruges was one of Europe’s biggest harbors. It let them know whether their delivery sailboats would be delayed due to poor wind conditions.

Keep looking at the building’s roof, and you’ll see another nifty scientific instrument that’s a bit more modern. This golden globe was used at the dawn of the railroad era to keep all the city’s clocks coordinated. It was installed because the advent of rail system meant clocks needed better accuracy to ensure the reliability of the train schedules.

This clever device is actually quite simple. At noon, the sun’s shadow aligns with a small hole in the globe and falls upon a meridian line in the pavement. There were actually 41 such devices in Belgium, and this one is the last surviving one. If you look at the ground in the square, you’ll also notice a copper nail that shows the sun’s path.

Know Before You Go

It's free to look at from the main square. Check the copper nails on the pavement of the square as well.

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