Picture: market square of Bruges
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When you follow the Napoleoncanal (Damse Vaart) from Damme in northern direction, you eventually end up in Sluis. Sluis lies in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (Netherlands) and is at present day a busy shopping town. Sluis owes her existence - and also her decay - to the silting up of the Zwin. Because of this silting up, successively Damme, Monnikenrede, Hoeke, Muyden and eventually Sluis became the ports of Bruges. This brought great prosperity to all these ports. Nowadays, Sluis is also cut off from the sea. Sluis was the last harbour of Bruges, nevertheless regularly Bruges had to intervene by arms to enforce her rights. Practically all the goods that were imported via the Zwin had to be traded on the markets of Bruges or Damme. Sluis probably is the most Flemish town of the Netherlands; the people from Sluis truly boast on their Flemish roots.
Sluis came to existence in the second half of the 13th century and received her town privileges in 1290. Untill 1324, this place was called Lamminsvliet; only after that date people started calling it Sluis. Pretty soon Sluis became an reinforced town: in 1382, Louis van Male (count of Flanders) had the place fortified. The construction of the castle commenced in 1385; in 1794 it was however that much damaged by French artillery that it was torn down in 1820. Other defence constructions did servive till present day. The town center was completely encircled by walls which now have become a very nice walking route. The most impressive gate was the Westgate or "Steenen Beer" (Stone Bear), which was destroyed in 1437 by soldiers from Bruges, but was rebuilt lateron. The fortified town was even more strengtened when the duke of Parma showed up in the area (80-years war). A last modification was done in 1702 by Menno van Coehoorn(Spanish Successionwar).
In 1568, the 80-years war between Spain and the Northern Netherlands started. In 1587, the duke of Parma conquered the town. Spanish galleys used the harbour as base and dominated during many years the Zwin estuary. All things changed when, in 1604, the Spanish governor left the bastion. Prince Maurits of Nassau, settled in the town. The same year, he also took the town of Aardenburg. South of Sluis, a line of fortifications was put in place, the access to the Zwin was shut off, town walls were strengthened, fortresses on both sides of the front,... In that time, around Damme the 7-star-shaped fortifications were built. The bastion Damme served as defence bastion for Bruges against hostile Sluis.
A last attempt to connect Bruges with the sea was done by Napoleon. He had Spanish prisoners of war dig a canal between Bruges and Sluis (Damse Vaart). The goal of this venture was to make a link with the Westerschelde in Breskens. Because of his defeat, Napoleon's canal was never finished; the diggers didn't get further than Hoeke. Only in 1858, the last miles towards Sluis were completed. The canal nowadays is an important tourist attraction for the town.
Charles the Temerary married Margareta of York in Damme. His father, Filips the Good of Burgundy, choose Sluis for his wedding with Isabella of Portugal. Each town her share. According to the legend, 'Jantje van Sluis' avoided the capture of the town by the Spanjards. When the town clock struck 3, the besiegers would have attacked Sluis. Jantje was assigned to ring the bells, but he partied too much with his friends and fell asleep. The bells didn't ring and the Spanish postponed their attack. Another famous person from Sluis is Johan Hendrik van Dale, the writer of the 'Dikke van Dale' (the most important Dutch dictionary), who was Flemish.
Sluis used to have 2 churches: the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk and the Sint-Janskerk. The last one was torn down in 1823, after it burnt down in 1811. The present church was only built in the 20th century. The pride of the town however, is the belfort annex town hall. This belfort is the only one in the Netherlands! In 1960, a carillon was placed in the tower. Inside the town walls also stands a windmill which was restored after it had been severely damaged in World War II.
In 1944, the town was heavily bombed. There wasn't much that still stood up right. After the war, the center was rebuilt taking into account the historical past. Small note: in 1830 Sluis almost belonged to Belgium.
Worth seeing: walls, town gates, canal, quay, belfort, mill, centre of town.
© Hendrik De Leyn - www.damme-online.com