Foto: Schellemolen aan de Damse Vaart te Damme.  

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Bruges Gate
Farm "De Stamper"
Farm Saint-Christopher
House "De Grote Sterre"
House Saint-John
Medieval waterwell
Our Ladies Church
Lock of the "Lieve"
Town Hall
Town walls
Saint-John's Hospital

Reserve "The town walls"
Canal "Damse Vaart"
Bat reserve

Canal "Damse Vaart"

Book village
Museum St.-John's Hospital
Museum Town Hall
Museum Schellemill
Museum C. Delporte
Museum Uilenspiegel

Herring Market
Statue J. Van Maerlant

Town of Tijl Uylenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak

Damme is one of the smallest and at the same time one of the most picturesque towns of Belgium.  Very few small places have such an extensive historic heritage as Damme: the town hall, the Our Ladies church, Saint-John's hospital and a number of old civilian houses are the proud remains of a rich past.  Damme is located in the fertile green polders which makes it the ideal base for a hike or bicycle ride with the whole family.  The culinary reputation reaches far beyond the country's borders and since a few years Damme has become a genuine book village. 

Fixed events
Weekly market on Thursday, book market each second Sunday of the month, running contest Damme - Bruges - Damme end of March, village fair in July, swimming competition Damme - Bruges in August.

In the beginning, Damme was called "Hondsdamme" (Houndsdamme), from which originates the hound in the weapon of Damme.  Nevertheless, that name has nothing to do with a hound, but with a "honte".  Honte is an old Flemish word that means "muddy place at the mouth of a stream".  The word "honte" was then degenerated to "hond" (which means hound or dog).  An old legend tells us though that the devil, in the form of a wandering hound, scared the dikebuilders with its howling.  One day, a dikeburst threatened the town.  The dikebuilders smashed the hound's head in and pushed the corpse into the rupture.  Damme was saved from the flood (and from the howling hound of course).  We naturally hope for the dog's sake that this is only a legend and not reality...

After a flood in the beginning of the 11th century, people started building dikes alongside the seabay towards Bruges.  This was done to protect the land against other inundations and to clear new grounds and to make them suitable for agriculture.  Because of these works and the retreat of the sea, the channel that linked Bruges to the sea silted up.   A canal was dug to connect Bruges again with the retreated seabay.  After the stormflood of 1134, the Zwin was created.  The dikes on the right- and leftbanks of the Zwin were connected to eachother in a place then called "Ten Damme".  A new canal was dug between Bruges and that place.  At the end of that canal, the people from Bruges built a lock-chamber.  From that moment on, Damme was the harbour of Bruges.

In order to stimulate trade, in 1180, count Philips from Alsace gave Damme townprivileges and exemption of tollrights.  Seaships could sail as far as Damme, where their goods were then overloaded onto smaller boats.  Via a canal, these boats could reach Bruges.  During the first century of it's existence, Damme lived to see it's greatest flourishing; the oldest monuments in the town center still date back to that age.  Next to the transfer of goods, Damme also had the staplerights on wine and herring (see Herringmarket/Haringmarkt).  The town flourished and grew fast and soon the construction of the church (Our Ladies church) commenced.  Soon hereafter the Halls and the Saint-John's hospital were built.  In that age, a lot of other (already dissapeared buildings) were constructed like: a begijnhof, a guesthouse and several chapels.  The, also dissapeared, St.-Catherinschurch dates back to that time; this building stood just outside the present town walls.  There was also a court of justice, which proves the importance of the town.  Damme was one of the largest harbours of it's age.  When the French king Phillips August captured the town in 1213, his entire fleet (1700 vessels!) fitted into the harbour

In 1262, a canal (called the "Lieve") was dug from Ghent to Damme.  Via a lock-chamber, the canal entered the town.  At first, the canal reached the Zwin just outside the townwalls.  Later on, the canal was (for strategic reasons) directed inside the townwalls.  

Untill that time, Damme was an open town without walls and defence gates.  This changed when in 1297, the French king Phillips captured the town.  Damme was quite rapidly recaptured by the Flemish.  As a result, the first defence structures were constructed.  At the end of the 14th, begin 15th century a second wall was built around the town

In the course of time however, the access to the harbour silted up and the largest ships could no longer reach Damme directly. At the beginning of the 14th century, the main trade shifted to other harbours, located closer to the sea.  Especially Lamminsvliet (later on called Sluis), benefited from this.  Damme slowly lost it's importance as international tradecenter, but the town was far from dead: it got a new role in history as a military fortress

In 1568, the 80-year war between Spain and the Northern Netherlands started.  When, in 1604, Sluis and Aardenburg were conquered by prince Maurits, Damme found itself in the fronline of the war.  Between 1615 and 1620, the Spaniards built new defencewalls in the shape of a 7-star.  These walls are still pretty well preserved and are being restored.  Damme was important because of it's position on the canals, close to Sluis and ideal to defend Bruges.  The mouth of the "Lieve" (canal Ghent-Damme) was redirected inside the walls and entered the town via a covered watergate.  That gate was later on used as a weapon storage ("casemate") and still exists.  Because of the construction of the new walls, several buildings had to be pulled down (such as the old gates).  The town, or better: the fortress, could only be accessed via 2 new gates.  A military governor ruled the town and it would remain a military stronghold untill 1760

During the Spanish Successionwar (1703-1713) the fortifications were again strengthened.  Despite all these efforts, the town was captured in 1706 by troops of the duke of Marlborough.  Some 80 years later, the fortifications were publically sold on the command of emperor Joseph II.

In 1810, Napoleon tried to link Bruges with the Schelde via a new canal.  This plan was never entirely completed and at present day, the canal goes no further than Sluis.  This canal is the famous "Damse Vaart".  Unfortunately, this canal was dug through the center of Damme, this meant that a lot of buildings had to be demolished.  The "Korenmarkt" and a lot of beautiful gentleman's houses dissapeared.  The 3 streams that juncted in the center of town, "Lieve" (Ghent-Damme), "Reie" (Bruges-Damme) and "Zwin" (sea-Damme), and the port of Damme were filled up with the sand of the new canal.

Damme had decayed to not much more than a small agricultural village.  Upcoming tourism however in the 20th century, put the town back on the map.  The cultural heritage is the living witness of the rich past Damme has.  This small town now is cosy place where it is pleasant to stay. 

 Den Hoorn



Hendrik De Leyn - www.damme-online.com

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