Discover East Flanders
Become a tourist again with a sightseeing trip of historic East Flanders. We offer this guide to your journey.
The Province of East Flanders may be divided into identifiable districts encircling Ghent, the provincial capital and its surroundings.The region of Lys extends to the southwest along the river, the land of Waas, the northeast to Antwerp Province, Scheldt and Dender regions to the east, the Flemish Ardennes to the south and the Meetjesland to the northwest.
This region, southwest of Ghent's suburbs following the meandering river Lys, is both agricultural and industrial. The town of Deinz, of poultry-raising fame, is the most important here.
The beautiful countryside along the Lys attracted two schools of influential painters in the first decade of this century with both schools commonly referred to by the name of the village, Sint Martens-Latem. The artists included Emile Claus, Georges Minne, Constant Permeke, A. Servaes and the De Smets, Gust and Leon. Excellent regional museums containing their works are located in the village itself, in nearby Deurle and in Deinz.
Also one of Flanders' loveliest chateaux, Ooidonk, is located near Deinz. Dating from the fourteenth century this sumptuous edifice has been modified and rebuilt over the centuries for truly comfortable living, yet retains a sixteenth century appearance. The interior furnishings are of considerable beauty and worth a visit on their own. Possessed successively by famous noble families of France and Belgium, including the Count of Hornes who was executed during the religious wars, it remains the private home of Graaf t'Kint de Roodebeke.
The land of Waas
The flat green land of Waas extending northeast of Ghent is one of the most productive agricultural districts on the continent. At one time the terrain was all marsh and forest, but during the early Middle Ages, religious communities under the Counts of Flanders cleared and drained the land, built dykes and waterways, with peat becoming an important commodity.
Towns and villages soon followed and the terrain was made more fertile by the addition of enriched soil. Sheep were introduced to supply wool to the weavers of Ghent while farm production was further increased by the development of intensive scientific methods.
Sint Niklaas is the region's largest town with Belgium's largest market square. Starting as a small parish, it became a market town in the thirteenth century, but its growth really came from textiles in the nineteenth century. More recently, over the past 30 years, the town has experienced significant expansion with the development of small manufacturers in industrial zones providing prosperous employment for former agricultural workers from the surrounding areas.
In addition to the traditional markets, the huge square with its seventeenth century church and lovely white stone town hall is the centre for many activities. The most delightful event for all ages is the annual balloon rally in September.
For cultural interest, Sint Niklaas has a very fine Salon for Fine Arts, while the Mercator Museum has maps and globes of the famous mapmaker who was born near here. There are other notable churches and museums in the neighbouring towns of Lokeren and Temse.
Sports and nature lovers will enjoy De Ster just outside of Sint Niklaas. A family recreation park amidst numerous woods with ponds for swimming and boating, it also has organized sports and many other attractions. Near Lokeren there is a nature reserve Molsbroek.
Like most of Flanders, the region around these two rivers has been calmly rural over the centuries, but the second half of this 20th century saw the appearance of flourishing industrial zones, changing certain quiet towns to minor cities.
Formerly one of the quiet interior towns, located on the canalised Dender River and the very important cross country E40 highway, Aalst has grown to a quarter of a million inhabitants and has become the most important commercial, financial and industrial centre of the region. Known only recently as a textile and brewery town, it now has about 1500 businesses in the city and 100 companies in four industrial zones. As a commercial centre it counts some 1300 shops, 600 service industries and 500 hotel, restaurants and cafés.
Once the seat of the court of the Count of Flanders in the thirteenth century and Estate Generals assemblies in the fifteenth century, it was the home of Dirk Martens, the inventor of typography and the heart of the emancipation movement of the textile workers led by the priest Father Daens.
Dendermonde a picturesque town strategically situated on the confluence of the rivers Schelde (east to west) and Dender (north to south) has experienced a quite violent past. A fortress town incorporated into the County of Flanders, it came regularly under attack over the ages and was almost totally destroyed by the invading Germans in 1914.
Nevertheless, with continued reconstruction it has a number of listed buildings. The town hall rebuilt in the 1920's was originally the fourteenth century Cloth hall and belfry, the meat hall of the same period is an archaeological museum, the Begijnhof and two gateways of the old walls date from the seventeenth century, while The Church of Our Lady was rebuilt in the fifteenth and has amongst its treasures, two major paintings of Van Dyke.
At the end of August each year Dendermonde offers its Traditional Parade of Giants: three dancing guild giants with some 600 costumed participants.
Gerardsbergen is situated in the low flat valley of the Dender River but at the base of a steep 113m hill, the Oudenburg. This very old town is best known in bicycle racing. Racers dread this sheer rise on the circuit, described as Muur (the wall).
On the hill itself there is an ancient abbey, now a museum and gardens, while the town square Grote Markt below has a fourteenth century town hall and a fifteenth century church, as well as a charming copy of the Mannekin Pis given to the town by Brussels in 1745. The town is also known for its Lenten Procession with the participants throwing craquelins, a type of biscuit, to the crowd. This is usually held on the last Sunday in February.
The largest lake in Flanders, Donkmeer is located approximately 13km west of Dendermonde. Once an extension of the Schelde, with the flooding of peat diggings it grew to lake size in the sixteenth century. With numerous water activities and an animal park, it is a major attraction of East Flanders.
Oudenaarde, whose name means "old landing place," is located on the Schedle south of Ghent and is definitely worth a visit. Despite repeated attacks throughout the town's 1,000-year-history, many architectural gems remain impressively intact. Don't miss the 16tth-century Stadhuis built in Brabantine Gothic style and the tapestries inside or the nearby Saint Walburg church, which actually combines two buildings.
With more than 100 classified monuments and houses, Oudenaarde is the second most important art town in East Flanders. At pubs and taverns throughout town, beer lovers can experience firsthand Oudenaarde's rich tradition of fermenting and ripening brown ales and fruit beers.
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