MECHELEN, OOIDONK and OSTEND: things to see

Mechelen: St Rombouts cathedral, Grand Place
Ooidonk: the castle of Ooidonk
Oostende: Queen of Seaside Resorts, Belle Epoque


During the 15th and 16th century, Mechelen was at its peak. In 1473, Charles the Bold transferred the Comptroller's office and the Supreme Court to Mechelen, that became the legal capital of the Netherlands. From 1507 on, the city of Mechelen was also the place from which Margaret of Austria governed the Netherlands. After her death in 1530, the importance of the city began to wane however, and it had to cope with several disasters.

In 1546, a great explosion of a powder magazine in the Zandpoort destroyed much of the city, and there were over 200 deaths and 600 injured ! In 1566, the Protestant Iconoclasm destroyed hundreds of churches, and there were many casualties. In 1572, opponents of the Orangists opened the city gates for the Spanish troops of the Duke of Alva, and so totally surrendered the city to him. Nevertheless, the Spanish troops completely sacked the city, and they committed such horrible atrocities on its citizens, that it entered history as the Spanish Fury !

The construction of the St Rombouts Cathedral began in the thirteenth century. The consecration of the church took place in 1312, but later construction phases lasted until 1500. During the religious wars of the sixteenth century, much of the churches' furniture and silverware was lost. In 1580, there was the English fury, and during the subsequent Calvinist reign until 1585, the church was used for Reformist worship, and everything that even indicated the catholic religion was removed.

During French raids in 1792 and 1794, most of the silver treasure was lost. During the First World War, the cathedral was badly damaged by bombing, and in 1972, a large fire again caused widespread damage...

Mechelen : St Rombouts Cathedral 1 Mechelen : St Rombouts Cathedral 2


The Castle of Ooidonk is located in Sint-Maria-Leerne, near Deinze and Ghent. In the 12th century it originated as a farm, and in the 14th century it was transformed into a fortified castle, as an outpost of the city of Ghent. It is one of the most exquisite castles in Flanders, and has been rebuilt in 1579, in a playful Spanish-Flemish Renaissance style.

During the religious wars, the castle was twice destroyed, in 1491 and 1579. The ruins were bought by Martin della Faille, and it was rebuilt as a castle. In 1864, it was bought by Count Henri 't Kint de Roodenbeke. The interior is exceptionally well furnished, and the surrounding parks and formal gardens are spread over 54 hectares.

the Castle of Ooidonk 1
the Castle of Ooidonk 2

Oostende - Ostend

In 814, the then puny fishing village of Ostend was given to the abbey St Bertinus, but severe storms and flooding forced it to move further inland. In 1372, the city was fortified with palisades, but again new storms and floods devastated the city, so that for the second time it was moved further inland. In 1445, Philip the Good gave his permission to build a port, but in 1447 the city was again flooded, and it was moved for the third time...

In 1489, Ostende was sacked and burned by supporters of Maximilian I of Austria, which was the beginning of several wars in the Low Countries. In 1548, Ostend was captured by the English and Dutch Sea Beggars. In 1600, the army of the Prince of Orange withdrew to Ostend, and Protestants from England and Northern Ireland received free access to the port, as the last Protestant stronghold in the Catholic Spanish Netherlands. The Spanish response was a siege of Ostend, which lasted for three years and caused about 160,000 deaths. Ostend itself was completely destroyed...

The next war in 1706 between the French and an alliance of England, the Netherlands and the German prince States, had as consequence that Ostend was besieged by the English fleet, and once more almost completely destroyed...

In 1723, the Ostend India Company was founded, and rapidly Ostend became an important port with the imports of Chinese and Indian merchandise. But under international pressure (read English and Dutch commercial pressure...), the Company was abolished in 1731.

Around 1900, King Leopold II spent a significant portion of the fortune he made in the Belgian Congo, in Ostend. He built the Royal Galleries, the Royal Villa, the Maria Hendrika Park, the royal stables, the neo-Gothic St Peter and Paul Church, the Royal Yacht Club of Ostend, the de Smet de Naeyer bridges, and the Royal Golf Club of Oostende. Together with the Casino Kursaal, the new theater in 1905, the sea promenade, the kiosk, the city theater, the Leopold Park, the Wellington Racecourse, and the city library, Ostend now radiated a genuine bourgeois atmosphere ! The city was nicknamed "the Queen of Seaside Resorts", and became a world famous and very mundane beach resort.

However, the two World Wars heralded the end of Ostend as a city of the Belle Epoque. In World War I, Ostend became a base of German submarines, and twice the British blockaded the entire city. During World War II, the Germans installed heavy guns in the dunes. In 1945, the sea promenade and actually most of Ostend were yet again completely destroyed, this time by Allied bombings on the Atlantik-Wall, the port, and the railroad...

Old Ostend 1 Old Ostend 2
Old Ostend 3 Old Ostend 4
Old Ostend 5 Old Ostend 6
** Continue reading with a look at Oudenaarde, Veurne and Vilvoorde **
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