Around Damme


Picture: market square of Bruges  

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Abbey of Ter Doest
Castle of Middelburg
Fort of Bavaria


Good wine doesn't need a crown.  There is no place in Belgim where so many remains of Middle Ages can be found as in Bruges.  The history of Damme has always been closely related to the history of Bruges.  Together they knew their times of glory, which made them infamous all over the known world.  But they also went down together when the Zwin silted up and seaships could no longer reach Bruges or one of her ports.

Bruges said to have originated from a Gallo-Roman settlement some 2000 years ago.  At that time trade via the sea already took place here.  On what is now know as the "Burg", there used to be a stronghold in the middle of the 9th century.  The port was accessible directly from the sea until the middle of the 11th century.  At that moment in time, the town already had grown to an international commercial center.   

Slowly however the connection to the sea silted up.  A stormflood in 1134 created a new bay, the Zwin, which reached till Damme.  Damme became the port of Bruges, lateron Sluis and Bruges continued to be prosperous.  Unfortunately, the Zwin silted up too and seaships could no longer reach Damme.  Throughout the entire history of the town, the citizens of Bruges continuously tried to maintain their connection to the sea.  A last attempt to reach the Westerschelde via a canal (the present Damse Vaart) was undertaken by Napoleon.  Because of his loss in the war, the canal never was finished and stops in Sluis.  Nowadays the town has again a great seaport, namely Zeebruges.


Throughout the Middle Ages, the region around Bruges was one of the most prosperous of Europe and because of that a very wanted area for foreign rulers.  The county of Flanders came to existence here and Bruges was its capital.  At the peak of its power and wealth, Flanders was a lot larger than what it is now.  Although the one foreign power after the other ruled the region, the Flemish cities succeeded in keeping a great level of indepence for a long time.  
One of the most significant events was the rising of the Flemish against the French occupier in 1302.  At this event, French troops, garrisoned in the castle of Male, were put out of action.  One night, the French army (Leliaerts) that occupied the town itself was slaughtered by the Flemish (Klauwaerts).  Till that night, the Flemish had been hiding in Damme.  This were what is called the "Brugse Metten".  In the battle that followed these events (Battle of the Golden Spurs, Courtray 11 July 1302) the French king's army of knights was defeated by the Flemish.  In the battles that followed, the Flemish cities were not always so successful.  
In 1384, the Flanders were gouverned by Burgundy.  This was the result of the marriage of Margareta of Male (daughter of Lodewijk of Male, 24th count of Flanders) and Philips, duke of Burgundy.  The new rulers also tried to submit the town, in order to collect as much taxes as possible.  The dukes had gread need of money to finance their costly wars against France.  The citizens of Bruges however, were very attached to their independence and privileges and regularly this lead to uprisings.  In 1482, duke Maximilian of Austria (who had just become widower of Maria of Burgundy) was captured when he tried to break tho town's power and wanted to impose more taxes.  His collaborators were tortured on Bruges' Marketsquare and condemned to the death.  The most known story is the one of Pieter Lanckhals, who was decaputated, after which his head was placed on a pike above the Gentpoort.  The days when Burgundy ruled the town however, was a time of great prosperity.  Their departure was the beginning of the end. 

After Burgundy came Spain, that brought the Southern Netherlands under their government.  It was then that Damme became a bastion.  Then cam the French revolution and Napoleon.  In that period, the town was plundered in administrative way. 

The industrial revolution passed by the town and by the middle of the 19th century, Bruges had become the poorest town in Flanders.  After that period, tourism began and nowadays millions of tourists visit the town because of its rich cultural heritage and its monuments.  This town is a true open-air museum; lots of buildings that date back to the glory days are still intact.  That's what makes Bruges one of a kind. 

The wealth of Bruges is due to many factors.  There was the trade with entire Europe (from Scandinavia and England to the cities in de Mediteranean Sea).  The region had a very flourishing cloth industry and lateron also the famous lace of Bruges became a very popular export product.  The arrival of foreign Hanzes and representatives from other cities and countries, transformed the town to an important financial center, you could say a Wallstreet avant-la-lettre.  Prosperity also brought art in the town.  Think about the priceless Flemish Primitives.  But also a lot of other artefacts are sign of the rich cultural life.  Bruges has lots of museums where you can 'taste' of all this.
The decay of the region is due to a combination of various factors.  Not only the wars with foreign rulers, but also internal fights with other towns made the area less attractive (and lucrative).  The silting up of the Zwin estuary made trade over sea more and more difficult.  Epidemics like the plague made a lot of casualties, Geuzen (protestant religious fighters) plundered the town and traders more and more left as a consequence.  The industrial revolution in England finally meant the end of the blooming textile industry in Flanders...



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