[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]
Ostend is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. It comprises the boroughs of Mariakerke (West Flanders), Stene and Zandvoorde, and the city of Ostend proper – the largest on the Belgian coast.
In earlier times, Ostend was nothing more than a small village built on the east-end (Dutch: oost-einde) of an island (originally called Testerep) between the North Sea and a beach lake. Although small, the village rose to the status of «town» 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 town was frequently taken, ravaged, ransacked and destroyed by conquering armies. The Dutch rebels, the Geuzen, took control of the town. The Siege of Ostend, 1601 to 1604, of which it was said that «the Spanish assailed the unassailable and the Dutch defended the indefensible», cost a combined total of more than 80,000 dead or wounded, making it the single bloodiest battle of the Eighty Years’ War. This shocking event set in motion negotiations that led to a truce several years later. When the truce broke down, it became a Dunkirker base.
After this era, Ostend was 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 town provided an alternative exit to the sea. The Southern Netherlands (largely the territory of present Belgium) had become part of the Austrian Empire. The Austrian Emperor Charles VI granted the town the trade monopoly with Africa and the Far-East. The Oostendse Compagnie (the «Ostend trade company») 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 the Dover route. The replacement ferries have no foot passenger provision on the ferries, only bicycle and car users and road freight connections with Ramsgate. Very important for the image of the town was the attention it started to receive from the Belgian kings Leopold I and Leopold II. Both liked to spend their holidays 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».
In 1866 Ostend was the venue for a crucial meeting of exile Spanish Liberals and Republicans which laid the framework for a major uprising in their country, culminating in Spain’s Glorious Revolution two years later.
The town hosted all but one of the sailing events for the 1920 Summer Olympics in neighbouring Antwerp. They also hosted the polo events.
In the twentieth century wars brought significant destruction to Ostend. Many opulent buildings not destroyed in wars were also later razed and replaced with the structures in the modernist architecture style.