2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: European Geography


The Flemish Region

The Flemish Community
Official language Dutch
Capital Brussels
Minister-President Yves Leterme
 – Total

13,522 km²
 – In Flemish region
 – in Brussels region
Population density

6,043,161 ( 2005)
ca. 200,000
National anthem De Vlaamse Leeuw

Flanders (Dutch: Vlaanderen) has several main meanings:

  • the social, cultural and linguistical, scientific and educational, economical and political community of the Flemings; some prefer to call this the "Flemish community" (others refer to this as the "Flemish nation") which is, with over 6 million inhabitants, the majority of all Belgians;
  • a constituent governing institution of the federal Belgian state through the institutions of the Flemish Community (with its own Flemish government and Flemish parliament) and the Flemish region;
  • the geographical region in the north of Belgium coinciding with the Flemish region, a constituent part of the federal Belgian state.

The precise geographical area denominated by "Flanders" has changed a great deal over the centuries.

In the Middle Ages, the term Flanders was applied to an area in western Europe, the County of Flanders, spread over:

  • Belgium :
    • the area that is now approximately the Flemish provinces of East Flanders and West Flanders
    • the French-speaking area at the west of the Scheldt river, called Tournaisis (from the now Wallonian town Tournai in the province of Hainaut)
  • France :
    • a part of what is now the Nord département ( Nord-Pas de Calais), in north-eastern France, often called French Flanders or sometimes even South-Flanders.
  • Netherlands :
    • a part of what is now Zeeland in south-western Netherlands, called Zeeuws-Vlaanderen or North-Flanders.

The significance of the County and its counts eroded through time, but the designation remained in a very broad sense. In the Early Modern, the term Flanders was associated to the southern part of the Low Countries, the Southern Netherlands. The term Walloon Flanders corresponds to the French-speaking Flemish region around Lille. In history of art, the adjectives Flemish, Dutch and Netherlandish are commonly used to designate all the artistic production in this region. For examples, Flemish Primitives is synonym for early Netherlandish painting, Franco-Flemish School for Dutch School, and it is not uncommon to see Mosan art categorized as Flemish art.

Flanders in France

Flanders in the Netherlands

Landscape of Bachten de Kupe, in West Flanders
Landscape of Bachten de Kupe, in West Flanders

Contemporary Flanders

Sometime in the 19th century it became commonplace to call the area now known as Flanders, from Maasmechelen to De Panne as "Flanders", including parts of the Duchy of Brabant and the ( Belgian Limburg). This usage started to find its modern usage in a "disambiguation" of the northern part of Belgium (la partie septentrionale), from 1831, the establishment of the Belgian monarchy, on.

At this time, for most, the term Flanders is normally taken to refer to either the political, social, cultural and linguistic community (and the corresponding official institution, the Flemish Community), or the geographical area, one of the three regions in Belgium, namely the Flemish region.


Early history

Flanders was once inhabited by Celtic peoples and Germanics had crossed the Rhine and merged with them. They were called Belgæ while the area was the farthest part of Gallia Belgica, the most northeastern province of the Roman Empire at its height.

Historical Flanders: County of Flanders

Created in the year 862, the County of Flanders was divided when its western districts fell under French rule in the late 12th century. The remaining parts of Flanders came under the rule of the counts of neighbouring Hainaut in 1191. The entire area passed in 1384 to the dukes of Burgundy, in 1477 to the Habsburg dynasty, and in 1556 to the kings of Spain. The western districts of Flanders came finally under French rule under successive treaties of 1659 (Artois), 1668, and 1678.

During the late Middle Ages Flanders' trading towns (notably Ghent, Bruges and Ypres) made it one of the most urbanised parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for both domestic use and export.

Increasingly powerful from the 12th century, the territory's autonomous urban communes were instrumental in defeating a French attempt at annexation ( 1300- 1302), finally defeating the French in the Battle of the Golden Spurs ( July 11, 1302), near Kortrijk. Two years later, the uprising was defeated and Flanders remained part of the French Crown. Flemish prosperity waned in the following century, however, owing to widespread European population decline following the Black Death of 1348, the disruption of trade during the Anglo-French Hundred Years' War ( 1338- 1453), and increased English cloth production. Flemish weavers had gone over to Worstead and North Walsham in Norfolk in the 12th century and established the woollen industry.

Flanders in the Low Countries

The Reformation

Martin Luther's 95 Theses, published in 1517, had a profound effect on the Low Countries. Among the wealthy traders of Antwerp, the Lutheran beliefs of the German Hanseatic traders found appeal, perhaps partly for economic reasons in Dutch. The spread of Protestantism in this city was aided by the presence of an Augustinian cloister (founded 1514) in the St. Andries quarter. Luther, an Augustinian himself, had taught some of the monks, and his works were in print by 1518. Charles V ordered the closing of this cloister around 1525. The first Lutheran martyrs came from Antwerp. The reformation resulted in consecutive but overlapping waves of reform: a Lutheran, followed by a militant Anabaptist, then a Mennonite, and finally a Calvinistic movement. These movements existed independently of each other.

The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, issued by Charles V, established the Low Countries as the Seventeen Provinces (or Spanish Netherlands in its broad sense) as an entity separate from the Holy Roman Empire and from France.

Statues in the Cathedral of Saint Martin, Utrecht, affected by 16th century iconoclasm[1]
Statues in the Cathedral of Saint Martin, Utrecht, affected by 16th century iconoclasm

The schism between the southern Roman Catholics and northern Calvinists resulted in the Union of Atrecht and the Union of Utrecht, respectively.

It was the iconoclasm of 1566 (the Beeldenstorm) – the demolition of statues and paintings depicting saints – that led to religious war between Catholics and Protestants. The Beeldenstorm started in what is now French Flanders with open-air sermons (hagepreken) in Dutch. The first took place on the Cloostervelt near Hondschoote. The first large sermon was held near Boeschepe on July 12, 1562. These open-air sermons, mostly of Anabaptist or Mennonite signature, spread through the country. On August 10, 1566 at the end of the pilgrimage from Hondschoote to Steenvoorde, the chapel of the Sint-Laurensklooster (Cloister of Saint Lawrence) was defaced by Protestants. The iconoclasm resulted not only in the destruction of Catholic art, but also cost the lives of many priests. It next spread to Antwerp, and on August 22, to Ghent. One cathedral, eight churches, twenty-five cloisters, ten hospitals and seven chapels were attacked. From there, it further spread east and north, but in total lasted not even a month.

Charles' son, King Philip II of Spain, a devout Catholic and self-proclaimed protector of the Counter-Reformation who was also the duke or earl of each of the Seventeen Provinces, started to crack down on the rising Calvinists in Flanders, Brabant and Holland. What is now approximately Belgian Limburg was part of the Bishopric of Liège and was Catholic de facto. Part of what is now Dutch Limburg supported the Union of Atrecht, but did not sign it.

The Eighty Years' War and its consequences

In 1568 the Seventeen that signed the Union of Utrecht started a (counter)rebellion against Philip II: the Eighty Years' War. Before the Low Countries could be completely reconquered, war between England and Spain broke out, forcing the Spanish troops under Philips II to halt their advances. Meanwhile, Philips' Spanish troops had conquered the important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent. Antwerp, which was then arguably the most important port in the world had to be conquered. On August 17, 1585, Antwerp fell. This ended the Eighty Years' War for the (from now on) Southern Netherlands. The United Provinces (the Netherlands proper) fought on until 1648 – the Peace of Westphalia. The definite loss of the southern Low Countries caused the rich Calvinist merchants of these cities to flee to the north. Many migrated to Amsterdam, which was at the time a tiny port, but was quickly transformed into one of the most important ports in the world in the 17th century. The exodus can be described as 'creating a new Antwerp'.

This mass immigration from Flanders and Brabant (especially Antwerp) was an important driving force behind the Dutch Golden Age. While Spain was at war with England, the rebels from the north, strengthened by refugees from the south, started a campaign to reclaim areas lost to Philips II's Spanish troops. They managed to conquer a considerable part of Brabant (the later Noord-Brabant of the Netherlands), and the south bank of the Scheldt estuary ( Zeeuws-Vlaanderen), before being stopped by Spanish troops. The frontline at the end of this war stabilized and became the current border between present-day Belgium and the Netherlands. The Dutch (as they later became known) had managed to reclaim enough of Spanish king-controlled Flanders to close of the river the Scheldt, effectively closing Antwerp off from a significant trade route. Due to these events, Flanders and Brabant went into a relative decline in the 17th century. From the view of the sophisticated northerners and the present benefit of hindsight, it became a country of peasants and simple but happy folk. The potential to reclaim their wealth and prominent world position remained possible until just recently. Today Flanders is one of the most productive and wealthiest regions of the world.

Although arts remained at a relatively impressive level for another century with Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Flanders experienced a loss of its former economic and intellectual power under Spanish, Austrian, and French rule, with heavy taxation and rigid imperial political control compounding the effects of industrial stagnation and Spanish-Dutch and Franco-Austrian conflict.

1581-1815: The Southern Netherlands

Conquered by revolutionary France in 1794 and annexed the following year as the départements of Lys, Escaut, Deux-Nèthes, Meuse-Inférieure and Dyle. The people rose against the French in 1798, the Boerenkrijg, with the heaviest fights in the Campine area. The main reason for this uprising was the forced army service for all men aged 16-25.

1815-1830: United Kingdom of the Netherlands

After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo in Waterloo, Brabant, sovereignty over the Austrian Netherlands – Belgium minus the East Cantons and Luxembourg – was given by the Congress of Vienna ( 1815) to the United Netherlands (Dutch: Vereenigde Nederlanden), the state that briefly existed under Sovereign Prince William I of Orange Nassau, the latter King William I of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, after the French Empire was driven out of the Dutch territories. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands was born. The Protestant King of the Netherlands, William I rapidly started the industrialisation of the southern parts of the Kingdom. The political system that was set up however, slowly but surely failed to forge a true union between the northern and the southern parts of the Kingdom. The southern bourgeoisie mainly was Roman Catholic, in contrast to the mainly Protestant north, large parts of the southern bourgeoisie also primarily spoke French, instead of Flemish, a sub species of the Dutch language.

In the in 1815 instated Dutch Senate (Dutch: Eerste Kamer der Staaten Generaal) the nobility, mainly coming fom the south, became more and more estranged from their northern colleagues. Resentment grew both among the Roman Catholics from the south and the Protestants from the north and among the powerful liberal bourgeoisie from the south and their more moderate coleagues from the North. On August 25, 1830 (after the showing of the opera ' La Muette de Portici' of Daniel Auber in Brussels) the Belgian Revolution sparked off and became a fact. On October 4, 1830, the Provisional Authority (Dutch: Voorlopig Bewind) proclaimed the independence which was later confirmed by the National Congress that issued a new Liberal Constitution and declared the new state a Constitutional Monarchy, under the House of Saxe-Coburg. Flanders now became part of the Kingdom of Belgium, which was recognised by the major European Powers on January 20, 1831. The de facto dissidence was only finally recognised by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands on April 19, 1839.

Kingdom of Belgium

In 1830, the Belgian Revolution led to the splitting up of the two countries. Belgium was confirmed as an independent state by the Treaty of London of 1839, but deprived of the eastern half of Limburg (now Dutch Limburg), and the Eastern half of Luxembourg (now the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg) . Sovereignty over Zeeuws Vlaanderen, south of the Westerscheldt river delta, was left with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, who was allowed to levy a toll on all traffic to the Antwerp harbour until 1863.

Rise of the Flemish Movement

World War I and its consequences

Flanders (and Belgium as a whole) saw some of the greatest losses of life of the First World War including the battles of Ypres and the Somme. Due to the hundreds of thousands of casualties, the poppies that sprang up from the battlefield and that were immortalised in the poem In Flanders Fields, have become an emblem of human life lost in war. It is perfectly normal for poppies to invade disturbed arable ground. More important for the course of history is the resentment some felt of being used as cannon fodder, as a whole nation, and not as single soldiers.

Flemish feeling of identity and consciousness grew through the events and experiences of war. The German occupying authorities had taken several Flemish-friendly measures. More importantly the experiences of many Flemish speaking soldiers on the front led by French speaking officers catalysed Flemish emancipation. The French speaking officers barked the orders in French, followed by "et pour les Flamands , la même chose" , which basically meant, same thing for the Flemish, and it obviously did not help the Flemish conscripts, who were mostly uneducated farmers and workers who didn't speak French at all... The resulting suffering is still remembered by Flemish organizations during the yearly Yser pilgrimage in Diksmuide at the monument of The Yser tower.

Right-Wing Nationalism in the interbellum and World War II

Communautary quibbles and the Egmont pact

Government and politics

Both the Flemish Community and the Flemish region are federal units of the Kingdom of Belgium. In practice, the Flemish community and region together have their own parliament and government, whereas the region has almost no proper institutions any more, as it was absorbed by the community. Legally speaking however, it is the community that absorbed the competencies of the region.

The area of the Flemish Community is represented on the maps above plus the area of the Brussels region (seen as a white hole on the same map). Roughly, the Flemish Community is responsible for all cultural issues as Flemish education, culture, language, sports, ...

The area of the Flemish region is represented on the maps above. The Flemish Region has a population of around 6 million (excluding the Dutch-speaking community in the Brussels Capital region, which is not a part of the Flemish region). Roughly, the Flemish Region is responsible for all economic issues.

The number of Dutch-speaking Flemings in Brussels (region) is estimated to be between 11% and 15% (official figures do not exist as there is no language census and no official subnationality). According to a survey conducted by the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-La-Neuve and published in June 2006, 51% of respondents from Brussels claimed to be bilingual, even if they do not have Dutch as their first language. They are under the rule of the Brussels Region for economics affairs and under the rule of the Flemish Community for educational and cultural issues.

As of 2005, the Flemish institutions as its government, parliament, etc. represent the Flemish Community and the Flemish region. The region and the community thus de facto share the same parliament and the same government. All these institutions are based in Brussels. Nevertheless, both bodies (the community and the region) are still existing and the distinction between both is important for the people living in Brussels. Members of the Flemish parliament who were elected in Brussels region cannot vote on flemish regional affairs.

The official language for all Flemish institutions is Dutch. French enjoys a limited official recognition in a few municipalities along the border with French-speaking Wallonia and the bilingual Brussels Region. French is widely known in Flanders, with 59% claiming to know French according to a survey conducted by the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-La-Neuve and published in June 2006.


Many new political parties during the last half century were founded in Flanders: the nationalist Volksunie of which the extreme-right nationalist Vlaams Blok ( Vlaams Belang) split off, and that later dissolved into SPIRIT, moderate nationalism rather left of the spectrum, and the NVA, more conservative moderate nationalism; the alternative/ecological Groen!; and the short-lived anarchistic libertarian spark ROSSEM.

Flemish nation

For many Flemings, Flanders is more than just a geographical area (Flemish region) or a federal institution (Flemish community). Some even call it a nation: a people of over 6 million living in the Flemish Region and in the Brussels-Capital Region. Flemings share many political, cultural, scientific, social and educational views. Although most Flemings identify themselves more with Flanders than with Belgium, the largest group defines itself as both Flemish and Belgian. A vague and more controversial designation for Flanders is those parts of Belgium where Dutch is spoken. This designation finds its root in the romantic nationalism of the 19th century.

Administrative divisions

Provinces of Flanders

The Flemish Region covers 13,522 km² and contains over 300 municipalities. It is divided into 5 provinces:

  1. Antwerp (Antwerpen)
  2. Limburg (Limburg)
  3. East Flanders (Oost-Vlaanderen)
  4. Flemish Brabant (Vlaams-Brabant)
  5. West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen)

Independently from the provinces, Flanders has its own local institutions in the Brussels-Capital region, being the Vlaamse GemeenschapsCommissie (VGC), and its municipal antennae (Gemeenschapscentra, community centers for the Flemish community in Brussels). These institutions are independent from the educational, cultural and social institutions which depend directly on the Flemish government. They exert, among others, all those cultural competencies that outside Brussels fall under the provinces.

Geography and climate

Brussels (Brussel), Antwerp (Antwerpen), Ghent (Gent), Bruges (Brugge), Leuven and Mechelen are the largest cities of Flanders, with populations above or around 100,000.

Flanders has two main geographical regions: the coastal plain in the north-west and a central plateau. The coastal plain consists mainly of sand dunes and polders. Polders are areas of land, close to or below sea level that have been reclaimed from the sea, from which they are protected by dikes or, further inland, by fields that have been drained with canals. The central plateau lies further inland. This is a smooth, slowly rising area that has many fertile valleys and is irrigated by many waterways. Here one can also find rougher land, including caves and small gorges.

The climate is maritime temperate, with significant precipitation in all seasons ( Köppen climate classification: Cfb; the average temperature is 3 °C (37°F) in January, and 18°  C (64 ° F) in July; the average precipitation is 65  millimetres (2.6  in) in January, and 78 millimetres (3.1 in) in July).


Flanders is one of the most dynamic areas in the entire world. It has one of the highest per capita incomes, thanks to a modern economy with important investments by many international companies. It is located at the heart of one of the world's most highly industrialised regions.

Flanders was one of the first continental European areas to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the early 1800s. Initially, the modernisation relied heavily on food processing and textile. However, by the 1840s the textile industry of Flanders was in severe crisis and there was famine in Flanders (1846–50). After World War II, Antwerp and Ghent experienced a fast expansion of the chemical and petroleum industries. Flanders also attracted a large majority of foreign investments in Belgium, among others thanks to its well-educated and industrious labour force. The 1973 and 1979 oil crises sent the economy into a recession. The steel industry remained in relatively good shape. In the 1980s and 90s, the economic centre of the Belgium continued to shift further to Flanders. Nowadays, the Flemish economy is mainly service-oriented, although its diverse industry remains a crucial force. Flemish productivity per capita is between 20 and 25% higher than that in Wallonia.

Flanders has a particularly open economy. It has developed an excellent transportation infrastructure of ports, canals, railways and highways to integrate its economy with that of its neighbours. Antwerp is the second-largest European port, after Rotterdam.

In 1999, the euro, the single European currency, was introduced in Flanders. It replaced the Belgian franc in 2002. The Flemish economy is strongly export oriented, in particular of high value-added goods. The main imports are food products, machinery, rough diamonds, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing and accessories, and textiles. The main exports are automobiles, food and food products, iron and steel, finished diamonds, textiles, plastics, petroleum products, and nonferrous metals. Since 1922, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market within a customs and currency union—the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union. Its main trading partners are Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States and Spain.


The areas with the highest population density are around the Brussels-Antwerp-Gent- Leuven agglomerations, also known as the Flemish Diamond, as well as other important urban centres as Kortrijk, Bruges, Hasselt and Mechelen. As of 2005, the Flemish Region has a population of about 6,043,161, and around 15% of the people in Brussels 1,006,749 are also considered as Flemish.

The (Belgian) laicist constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the various government generally respects this right in practice. According to the 2001 Survey and Study of Religion, about 47 percent of the population identify themselves as belonging to the Catholic Church. According to these figures, the Muslim population is the second-largest religious community, at 3.5 percent (see Religion in Belgium). Since independence, Catholicism, counterbalanced by strong freethought and especially freemason movements, has had an important role in Belgium's politics, in particular via the Christian trade union ( CSC/ACV) and the Christian Democrat parties ( CD&V, CDH).

According to Npdata, 9.7% of the Flemish population is of foreign descent. 4.5% European (including 1.8% Dutch, 0.6% Italian and 0.4% French), and 5.1% from outside the European union, (inluding 1.8% Moroccan and 1.5% Turks).

Education is compulsory from the ages of six to 18, but most Flemings continue to study until around 23. Among the OECD countries in 1999, Flanders had the third-highest proportion of 18–21-year-olds enrolled in postsecondary education. Flanders also scores very high in international comparative studies on education. Its secondary school students consistently rank among the top three for mathematics and science. However, the success is not evenly spread: ethnic minority youth score consistently lower, and the difference is larger than in most comparable countries.

In addition, concern is rising over functional illiteracy. In the period 1994–98, 18.4 percent of the population lacks functional literacy skills.

Mirroring the historical political conflicts between the freethought and Catholic segments of the population, the Flemish educational system is split into a laïque branch controlled by the communities, the provinces, or the municipalities, and a subsidised religious—mostly Catholic—branch controlled by both the communities and the religious authorities—usually the dioceses. It should however be noted that—at least for the Catholic schools—the religious authorities have very limited power over these schools. Smaller school systems follow 'methodical pedagogies' (Steiner, Montesori, Freinet, ...) or serve the Jewish and Protestant minorities.

Flemish language and culture

The standard language used in Flanders is the same as in the Netherlands, i.e., Dutch. The Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium are often referred together as Flemish. However, using Flemish to refer to a specific dialectic language may be confusing as there are many different Flemish dialects that are sometimes mutually incomprehensible.

At first sight, Flemish culture is defined by its language and its gourmandic mentality. Some claim Flemish literature does not exist, because it is said to be 'readable' by both the Dutchmen as well as Flemings. That is correct for say 99% of the literature written in Dutch, although one might argue a distinct Flemish literature already began in the 19th century, when most of the european Nation-states arose, with writers and poets such as Guido Gezelle, who not only explicitly referred to his writings as Flemish, but actually used it in many of his poems, and strongly defended it:

"Gij zegt dat ‘t vlaamsch te niet zal gaan:
‘t en zal!
dat ‘t waalsch gezwets zal boven slaan:
‘t en zal!
Dat hopen, dat begeren wij:
dat zeggen en dat zweren wij:
zoo lange als wij ons weren, wij:
‘t en zal, ‘t en zal,
‘t en zal!"

"You say Flemish will disappear:
It will not!
that Walloonish rantings will prevail:
It will not!
This we hope, this we crave:
this we say and this we swear:
as long as we defend ourselves, we:
It will not, It will not,
It will not!"

This distinction in literature is also made by some experts, such as Kris Humbeeck, professor in Literature of the University of Antwerp here. Nevertheless, the near totality of Dutch-language literature read (and appreciated to varying degrees) in Flanders is the same as in the Netherlands.

Some other famous writers representative of Flemish culture are Ernest Claes, Stijn Streuvels, and Felix Timmermans.

Flanders in literature

A fictional town in Flanders called Quiquendone and the Flemish people were written about in the comic novel, Le Docteur Ox written by Jules Verne. In this story, Dr. Ox and his assistant Gédéon Ygéne secretly conduct science experiments which involved saturating the town with pure oxygen, in the guise of providing electricity for the town. This book was adapted into a full stage play by Dr. Michal Q. Schonberg of the University of Toronto at Scarborough and performed in March 2006.

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