Extent of the Flanders Region
Defining the Flanders region is not easy, especially as it also extends into a good part of Belgium.
A flat open region that rises significantly inland with undulating sandy hillocks, Flanders is bordered by the North Sea to the North, by the Aa and Lys rivers to the West, by the mouths of the Escaut river to the East and finally, by the Scarpe to the North.
French Flanders includes the areas named Southern Flanders, also called Westhoek, Coastal Flanders and Inland Flanders.
- Southern Flanders stretches from the North Sea to the Scarpe river and is home to 1 150 000 inhabitants over its 130 kilometres. Its population lives by the Flemish traditions and speak the Flemish or Picardy dialects.
- Coastal Flanders covers the area from the North Sea to the Lys river and is bordered by the Aa river to the West. It is 50km from North to South and its 350 000 inhabitants live by Flemish culture and speak the Flemish dialect.
- Inland Flanders stretches from the Lys to the Scarpe rivers over a distance of 80km from North to South. It has a mixture of Flemish and Roman culture and its population of 1 150 000 speak the Picardy dialect.
- Belgian Flanders is divided into two parts, West and East Flanders.
- West Flanders corresponds to the North-west part of Belgium and is bordered by the North Sea and the Lys river. It stretches over about 3 000 sq km.
- East Flanders corresponds to the North-west part of Belgium. Bordered by the Escaut river, it covers a little under 3 000 sq km.
Origin of the Flanders Region
The origins of the Flanders region date back to the first century BC, when it was conquered by Caesar and became a part of the Roman province of Belgium.
From the first century BC to the 18th century, Flanders was subject to successive masters. It belonged to the Counts of Flanders for 500 years, the Dukes of Bourgogne for 100 years, the House of Austria for 80 years and the Kingdom of Spain for 112 years, before becoming partly French under Louis XIV.
After a real conquest fought with numerous battles including the one at Val Cassel in 1677, and the signing of many treaties, Louis XIV conquered Gallicante Flanders and Flamingante from Armentières to Dunkirk. These were reunited in 1715 by a Flanders Intendancy. During the French Revolution, the Flanders region, annexed and divided into two departments, was named the “Nord/Pas-de-Calais” to remove any trace of its political, historical or cultural past. French Flanders remained occupied by the army until the first half of the 19th century, thus preventing any strategic industrial presence.
Towards the 21th century, the opening-up of Europe was an incessant reminder to the Flanders region of its former economic vocation, and the motorway, rail and river communication routes restored it to its original place at the heart of European trade.
Traditions in Flanders
Flanders is a land of windmills, hops, streams, bocage landscapes … and tradition. As the last bastion of Flemish culture in France, throughout the centuries Flanders has kept its rich heritage, simple nature and love of the customs belonging to this region that is so full of life.
Flemish tradition has strongly influenced the inhabitants of Flanders and the Flemish dialect is still heard in the taverns and on market days. In Flanders, people like to gather together in the taverns, sometimes referred to as a home from home, over a local beer and a typical regional dish such as ale stew or potje vleesch. These gatherings are also an occasion to get to know the many Flemish games that have survived amongst new sources of entertainment. Finally, there are the traditional festivals (the scarecrow festival, the pig festival, the Saint John’s day fires, etc), the folk dances which everyone goes to, or the Carnival where each person can show off his own decorated giant; all these play an important part in the lives of the Flanders communes.
A Rich Heritage
Due to its rich and exciting past, Flanders has an architectural and cultural heritage as diverse as it is unique.
Museums, “pas de moineaux” and red brick façades, windmills, churches, squares, chapels, etc invite us to take a step back into history. Flanders is one of the regions in France to contain the highest number of chapels. For centuries religion played a very important part in everyday life as the chapels enabled the inhabitants to assemble while labouring the fields without going to the main church. Flanders combines history and charm in a land of exchange where so many people pass through.
Often referred to as the “flat region,” Flanders has several high places at its centre ; a succession of high hills that, from their modest height, look down on the rich, green land of the Houtland plains. Including the Mont Cassel, the Mont des Cats, the Mont des Récollets, the 3 Monts, etc, the Flanders hills offer views that melt into mists and fragrances. Never matter that the contours are modest, since the landscape scenes are infinite and change with the seasons (the green of the hop fields, the yellow rapeseed fields and the red poppies), and the flora and fauna are remarkable.
Finally, the hundreds of kilometres of signposted footpaths and trails wind here and there, inviting you to discover the Flemish countryside and the Monts de Flandres.