Famous for its belfry and excellent shopping, the town of Sluis is seen by many as ‘Burgundian’, a Dutch term for fun-loving and almost eclectic. Founded around 1280, it received city rights about ten years later. Its strategic location on the shore of the Zwin inlet led it to become a fortified town in 1382. The golden age of Sluis lasted until 1450, when the silting up of the Zwin made shipping impossible. The town played a role in the States-Spanish Lines (hyperlink Zeeland Anchors), but largely lost its purpose.
In the early 20th century, French monastic orders came to Sluis and opened boarding schools. Students’ families visited on Sundays, which led shopkeepers to open their doors as well. This attracted shoppers from Belgium, who still swarm across the border to shop on Sundays.
Sluis was largely destroyed during the Second World War: on 11 October 1944, Allied bombs killed 61 people and heavily damaged the town. The buildings were restored after the war.
Sluis boasts the only town hall in the Netherlands with a belfry. This 14th-century Flemish clock tower is also home to the oldest Dutch clock figure: Jantje van Sluis. The wooden mechanical hooded man, built around 1424, is known as a 'hannekin’ or a 'Johannetje'. Every 30 minutes, he oversees the ringing of the bells.
The legend of Jantje van Sluis describes him as the hero who saved Sluis from destruction during the Eighty Years’ War. Jantje was supposedly tempted off his tower and, deep in drink, forgot to sound the clock. Spanish forces, who had agreed to attack the city at a certain hour, were thwarted by the silence and their attack plan failed.
Echoes of the past are everywhere, from the ramparts to the old city gates. On the Walplein stands a bust of Johan Hendrik van Dale, famous throughout the Netherlands for the ‘Van Dale's Great Dictionary of the Dutch Language’. In addition to his language work, he was a respected schoolmaster, archivist and publicist in Zeeland.
From April through September, you can book an expert guide to show you around. Contact us through the website or visit our Inspiration Point at the Belfry.
In July and August, come visit the night markets. You can find these and other happenings in our event calendar.