Ostend - City of Belgium
Ostend is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. It comprises the boroughs of Mariakerke, Stene and Zandvoorde, and the city of Ostend proper the largest on the Belgian coast.
BELGIUM National Animal : Lion
In earlier times, Ostend was nothing more than a small village built on the east-end of an island between the North Sea and a beach lake. Although small, the village rose to the status of "city" around 1265 when the inhabitants were allowed to hold a market and to build a market hall.
The major source of income for the inhabitants was fishing. The North Sea coastline has always been rather unstable and in 1395 the inhabitants decided to build a new Ostend behind large dikes and further away from the always-threatening sea.
The strategic position on the North Sea coast had major advantages for Ostend as a harbour but also proved to be a source of trouble. The city was frequently taken, ravaged, ransacked and destroyed by conquering armies. In their fight against the Spanish Empire during the Eighty Years' War, the Dutch rebels, the Geuzen, had occupied the city.
After this era Ostend turned into a harbour of some importance. In 1722 the Dutch again closed off the entrance to the harbour of Antwerp, the Westerschelde. Therefore, Ostend rose in importance because the city provided an alternative exit to the sea. The Southern Netherlands had become part of the Austrian Empire. The Austrian Emperor Charles VI granted the city the trade monopoly with Africa and the Far-East. The Oostendse Compagnie was allowed to found colonies overseas. However, in 1727 the Oostendse Compagnie was forced to stop its activities because of Dutch and British pressure. The Netherlands and Britain would not allow competitors on the international trade level. Both nations regarded international trade as their privilege.
In later times the harbour of Ostend continued to expand because the harbour dock, as well as the traffic connections with the hinterland, were improved. In 1838 a railway connection with Brussels was constructed. Ostend became a transit harbour to England in 1846 when the first ferry sailed to Dover. It no longer serves in that role today, except for freight, as an alternative channel crossing point to Calais, France. Very important for the image of the city was the attention it started to receive from the Belgian kings Leopold I and Leopold II. Both liked to spend their vacations in Ostend. Important monuments and villas were built to please the Royal Family.
The rest of aristocratic Belgium followed and soon Ostend became known as "The Queen of the Belgian sea-side resorts". Nowadays tourists and locals have discovered the joys of windsurfing and kite surfing. With wind never in short supply on the Belgian coast these new to Belgium sports have taken a foothold in Oostende and are practised almost year round .
Interesting locations are the Casino and Fort Napoleon. Ostend is also famous for its sea-side esplanade, pier, and fine-sand beaches. The James Ensor museum can be visited in the house where the artist lived from 1917 until 1949. The Mercator, an educational tall ship of the Belgian merchant fleet, has been converted into a maritime museum.
Beach Ostend is visited by many 'day' tourists, especially during July and August. Tourists from the Belgian inland and foreigners mostly arrive by train and head for the closest beach area from the station .
The locals and other residents in Belgium usually occupy the larger beach. Ostend is widely visited by British, Germans, French and Dutch. Buses from Brussels tend to pass through giving the opportunity to North American and Asian tourists to view Ostend.
During summer evenings you can walk through the little streets around Het Vissersplein. At certain times there are local markets in the neighbourhood streets and in the Summer the Vissersplein has music festivals.
The Vissersplein is a car free zone with many brasseries where you can sit outside and have a drink. Look towards the port side and find many little fish outlets, and beyond that, again, you can view close the ferries docking.
BELGIUM National Bird : Kestrel
BELGIUM National Flower : Red Poppy