Looking for reminders of times gone by
Zeeuws-Vlaanderen has a fascinating history with an abundance of historical evidence in its countless towns and villages. Even the surrounding countryside tells a telling tale about how the landscape was formed.
Defence and fortresses
The State-Spanish Lines is a line of dikes that criss-crosses the Zeeuws-Vlaanderen landscape from West to East. Along this line, you´ll discover the remains of military defences dating back to the Eighty Years´ War. During this war, parts of the land were submerged with water to keep the enemy at bay, making the sea an important ally in the fight against the Spanish. You can find out a lot more about Prince Maurits’ battle against the Spanish at Het Bolwerk Museum in IJzendijke.
In the village of Retranchement you will find ancient fortifications that give the village its name. In French retranchement means bulwark or barricade, and these barricades now provide a special habitat to unusual plants and wildlife such as the tree frog.
Aardenburg and Sluis
There are more remnants from the past in and around the fortified towns of Aardenburg and Sluis, the wooden statue of Jantje van Sluis dating back to 1421 on the Belfort belfry in Sluis for example. As the story goes, the bell ringer Jantje van Sluis saved Sluis from ruin in the Eighty Years’ War. Spanish troops were ready to attack Sluis as soon as the bells were rung, but Jantje overslept after having enjoyed one too many at the fair the night before!
In days of old there was extensive underground trade with the southern neighbours; the Flemings. Even the suggestions of old smuggling routes is enough to fire our imagination nowadays, but there are actual ancient smuggling routes running along small secret paths on either side of the border which are a great way of getting to know the Zeeuws-Vlaanderen and Flemish landscape.
Even more remnants are hidden in the sands of Het Zwin Nature Reserve. If you look hard enough, you’ll find fossilised sharks' teeth and if you want to know more about this nature reserve and its special animals and plants then start your walk through Het Zwin at the visitors’ centre in the village of Retranchement.
A dike that burst in 1802 created the Drowned Black Polder, an area ruled by the tides ever since. It is a special tidal area where freshwater and saltwater merge and the tides dominate. Everything here revolves around the tidal channel that is connected directly with the sea. At high tide, the water floods the mud flats and at extreme high tides, the whole area floods, including the salt marshes. Het Zwin is a paradise for birds; more than 300 different species have been spotted here. In summer, the “Zwinneblomme” (Zwin flower), the Flemish name for sea lavender, turns the entire area into a blaze of purple.