Flanders: A Cultural History

Flanders: A Cultural History

Flanders: A Cultural History

Flanders: A Cultural History


Andre de Vries explores the varied landmarks of Flanders, both rural and urban, to reveal this region's unique character. Considering great cities such as Ghent, Antwerp, and Bruges, he traces the development of a civic culture based on both trade and ideas, in which religion and language play a vital part. Looking too at the Flemish countryside, he explains the role of festivals and folk culture, gluttony and pleasure, in the survival of a strongly local identity.


“You Belgians of Germanic tongue, of Gallic corruption,
You non-entrepreneurial Net her landers, you unfrivolous French persons,
You sturdy, bombastic, realistic, short-sightedfolk!”

Geert van Istendael, Vlaanderen (Flanders), 1990

Where is Flanders?

The Brussels singer-songwriter Jacques Brel (whose family came from Ypres in West Flanders) had a popular song in the early 1960s in which he rhapsodizes about mon plat pays or “my flat country”. Flanders is not all flat—there are hilly parts in the south-west, but flatness and the proximity of the sea have profoundly influenced its history and character. Nor has Flanders ever been a neat geographical entity. When the term first appeared in the seventh century AD, it referred only to a strip of coastline between Bruges and the North Sea, including the former Roman fortress of Aardenburg. Since then the word has taken over more and more territory, until now it is routinely used for the whole of Dutch-speaking Belgium, an administrative Region of some six million people that dominates the rest of the country both economically and linguistically. At the same time, and rather confusingly, there is the Flemish Community, an official entity established in the 1960s to deal with all matters connected with the use of the Dutch language in Flanders, in particular education and culture. The modern Flemish Region has as many as 350,000 French-speakers, who also consider themselves Flemish.

While Flanders has expanded, the term “the Low Countries” is used less and less these days. Corresponding to the Dutch “de Lage Landen” . . .

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