The Beguinage of Bruges was founded in 1245 by the Countess of Flanders, Margaretha of Constantinopel, daughter of Count Baldwin who conquered Constantinopel (now Istambul) during the crusades. In 1299, Philip the beautiful of France, placed the Beguinage under his own rule, thereby withdrawing it from the influence of the town magistrate.Visitors enter the place via a bridge over the canal. The entrance gate bears the date 1776. A lot of houses, however, are much older than that. Most date from the 17th and 18th century. Some houses were built in the 19th century in neo-gothic style. In the southern part is a little dead end street where still some houses of the 15th-16th century can be found. The largest and most impressive house is situated in the left corner behind the garden. It was here that the 'grootjuffrouw', or 'grand-dame' lived. It was she who ruled over the beguinage. The original church of the 13th century was destroyed by a fire in 1584. It was rebuild in 1609 and later again renovated in late baroque style. In the early middle-ages most beguines worked in the textile industry of the cities. It was not a religious movement exclusively for poor and needy women. Very often, girls from rich and noble families joined the beguine community. They were then very often chosen to become 'Grand mistress of the Beguinage' and they lived in the nicest houses, whereas the poorer beguines lived in the 'convents' which were houses were several sisters lived together. Most still-existing beguinages are situated in the Northern part of Belgium. Although, now, there are practically no beguines alive anymore , their beautiful beguinages still exist as museums, cultural centers or houses for elderly people. The most important beguinages in Belgium are situated in the following cities: Bruges, Kortrijk, Gent, Lier, Turnhout, Dendermonde, Hoogstraten, Leuven and Diest.