Axel is one of the very few Dutch towns which had its own distinct costume. In the old days, you could recognise an Êêrpelkapper (resident of Axel) by their typical dress.
It was around 1000 AD that this West-Zeeland-Flanders town was first mentioned in writing. It is thought the name means ‘castle on the water’. Axel was granted its town charter in 1183 by Filips van de Elzas, the Count of Flanders.
In the Eighty Year War, the town was a link in the Staats-Spaanse Linies, the defence frontline of forts. between the Dutch and Spanish forces. In the Second World War, it was liberated by the First Polish Pantser Division, led by Colonel Szydlowski, which explains a number of street names today.
The unmissable 60-metre high water tower was erected in 1936. Nowadays revolving exhibitions are on display on the ground floor, and a vegetable garden around the foot of the tower gives pride of place to regional varieties.
The nearby statue ‘De Erpelkapper’, of a stooping man carrying a sack of potatoes and a small hoe, refers to the rather denigrating centuries-old nickname of an Axel person. After the potato harvest, they would scour the field for discarded tubers (erpels, similar to the Dutch ‘aardappels’) with a hoe (kapper), and supplement their winter stock.
They had vision and foresight then, and you should do likewise on your visit, so bring your binoculars. The broad sweeping view from the water tower includes the ships on the busy Westerschelde waterway. Closer to home, look around the Saturday street market, and if you’re into golf, gliding, cycling, walking, or just love nature or art, there’s space for you in the 160-hectare Smitsschorre park, not far outside the built-up area.
A part of the Smitsschorre has been declared an ‘art forest’, and houses the landscape art works of twelve sculptors. Back in town, dotted all around, is a striking series of sculptures and statues by Han Dei, and others.
Coming back to that distinct Axel dress, there is a rich collection of costumes and jewellery in the museum Het Warenhuis, alongside archaeological finds, interspersed with changing exhibits. If you’re into photography and radio, while away your time at the Foto- en Radiomuseum, an initiative of the Witte brothers, with a delectable collection of cameras from the period 1860 to 1950. And radio equipment from the early days of audio transmission.
Lovers of built monuments – and who isn’t? – will have a field day in Axel, especially at the brick corn mill built in 1749/1750, the second brick model in Zeeland-Flanders. Its sails were removed in 1911 when the power source switched to mechanical energy, still used today. Milling day is Saturday, and you’re welcome to look. Watch out though, it’s also officially recognised as a wedding venue.
As elsewhere in Zeeland-Flanders, on top of your own discovery drive, you can add value to your visit by having a guide come along with you. The Gidsenteam Zeeuwsch-Vlaanderen can make your walks and group tours even more fun – and adventurous.
Every day in the summer, things are happening in Axel. Get the up-to-date list of events and activities in our Events Calendar.