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Atomium building in Brussels

Atomium Belgium

The Atomium is situated in Heysel, the northern downtown of Brussels. The design is based on a crystallized molecule of iron magnified 150 milliard times.

Welcome to Flanders

Flanders (Dutch:  Vlaanderen, French: Flandre) one can say is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Over the course of history, the geographical territory that was called "Flanders" has varied.


Today, Flanders is identified with;

  • the Flemish Community (Dutch-speaking citizens of Belgium)
  • the Flemish Region, further subdivided into five provinces;
    • Antwerp
    • Flemish Brabant
    • Limburg
    • East Flanders
    • West Flanders

In addition, there is Brussels-Capital Region which geographically lies within the Flanders territory.

In the past Brussels was the capitol of the Duchy of Brabant where the dominant language was Dutch. In Brussels, minority around the French Dukes and the Brussels Bourgeois however spoke always French.  

Today, majority of Brussels citizens speaks French what gave the reasons to French speaking community of Belgium to claim Brussels as their territory and even asking for additional territories from Flanders to enlarge Brussels and to provide for the corridor to Wallonia. This is in fact the main political problem between Dutch and French speaking communities in Belgium today.

To the English speaking peoples, Flanders meant historically (from circa 1000 AD) the land situated along the North Sea from the Strait of Dover to the Scheldt estuary. The southern borders were generally ill defined. Over the last millennium, it was mostly the southern and western borders that receded to give the present day borders within northern Belgium.

Flanders has figured prominently in European history. Between the early 17th century and 1945, the political outcomes of modern Spain, France, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria were often decided by battles on the plains of Flanders. Even earlier in British and Irish history, the Flemings or Flemish were important allies of the Normans in their conquest of England (1066) and invasion of Ireland (1169–71).

In feudal times, Flanders formed a county, the County of Flanders, which extended over the present day:


In contemporary Belgium, there is pressure to consider Flanders as the 'country of the Flemish (Dutch) speaking people’ rather than just a region of Belgium. With this approach Flanders consists today of the following territories;

Let’s have a look on the history of those three ancient regions.

The County of Flanders

The area, roughly encompassing the later geographical meanings of Flanders, had been inhabited by Celts until Germanic people began immigrating by crossing the Rhine, either gradually driving them south- or westwards, or rather merging with them. By the first century BC Germanic languages had become prevalent, and the inhabitants were called Belgæ while the area was the coastal district of Gallia Belgica, the most northeastern province of the Roman Empire at its height. The boundaries were the Marne and Seine in the West, with Armorica (Brittany), and the Rhine in the East. This changed upon the Count of Rouen's settlement with the King of France, which made a cession of western Flanders and eastern Armorica to the Normans.

County of Flanders was created in the year 862 as a feudal fief in West Francia; 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 richest and most urbanized parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for both domestic use and export. As a consequence, a very sophisticated culture developed, with impressive achievements in the arts and architecture, rivaling those of Northern Italy. Ghent, Bruges, Ypres and the Franc of Bruges formed the Four Members, a form of parliament which exercised considerable power in Flanders.

Flandesr Arms

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 (1337–1453), and increased English cloth production. Flemish weavers had gone over to Worstead and North Walsham in Norfolk in the 12th century and established the woolen industry there.

In 1500, Charles V was born in Ghent. He inherited the Seventeen Provinces (1506), Spain (1516) with its colonies and in 1519 was elected the Holy Roman Emperor. 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. In 1556 Charles V abdicated due to ill health (he suffered from crippling gout). Spain and the Seventeen Provinces went to his son, King Philip II of Spain.

Meanwhile, Protestantism had reached the Low Countries. Among the wealthy traders of Antwerp, the Lutheran beliefs of the German Hanseatic traders found appeal, perhaps partly for economic reasons. 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. The first Lutheran martyrs came from Antwerp.

County of Flanders

Philip II, a devout Catholic and self-proclaimed protector of the Counter-Reformation, suppressed Calvinism in Flanders, Brabant and part of Holland (what is now approximately Belgian Limburg that was part of the Bishopric of Liège and was de facto Catholic ). In 1566, the iconoclasm began as protest against Philip II and promoted the disfigurement of statues and paintings depicting saints. This was associated with the ensuing religious war between Catholics and Protestants, especially the Anabaptists.

On the left there is a map of the County of Flanders from 1609.

The iconoclasm started in what is now French Flanders, with open-air sermons (Dutch: hagepreken) that spread through the Low Countries, first to Antwerp and Ghent, and from there further east and north. In total it lasted not even a month. The iconoclasm resulted not only in the destruction of Catholic art, but also cost the lives of many priests.

Subsequently, Philip II sent the Duke of Alba to the Provinces to repress the revolt. Alba recaptured the southern part of the Provinces, who signed the Union of Atrecht, which meant that they would accept the Spanish government on condition of more freedom. But the northern part of the provinces signed the Union of Utrecht and settled in 1581 the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

Spanish troops quickly started fighting the rebels, but before the revolt could be completely defeated, a war between England and Spain had broken out, forcing Philip's Spanish troops to halt their advance. Meanwhile, the Spanish armies had already conquered the important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent. Antwerp, which was then arguably the most important port in the world, also 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 Northern Netherlands) fought on until 1648 – the Peace of Westphalia.

On the right Frederick Henry and Ernst Casimir at the siege of 'sHertogenbosch by Pauwels van Hillegaert.

Hertogenbosh Battle

First the fall of Antwerp to the Spanish and later also the closing of the Scheldt were causes of a considerable emigration of Antwerpians. Many of the Calvinist merchants of Antwerp and also of other Flemish cities left Flanders and emigrated to the north.

Flanders and Brabant, due to these events, went into a period of relative decline from the time of the Thirty Years War. In the Northern Netherlands however, the mass emigration from Flanders and Brabant became an important driving force behind the Dutch Golden Age in 17th century.

Groot Nedrland in parts

After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo in Waterloo, Flanders and Brabant (3), Limburg (2) and Luxembourg (4 and 5)– were given by the Congress of Vienna (1815) to the United Netherlands (1).  The Dutch king became the 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 industrialization 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; also large parts of the southern bourgeoisie primarily spoke French rather than Dutch.

On the left the map showing territories that made up in 1815 the United Kingdom of Nederlands.

In 1830, the Belgian Revolution led to the splitting up of the United Kingdom. Belgium (3 + 4 + part of 2) 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, which was allowed to levy a toll on all traffic to Antwerp harbour until 1863.

The Duchy of Brabant

The Duchy of Brabant was a second historical region in the Low Countries that contributes to today’s Flanders. Its territory consisted essentially of the three modern-day Belgian provinces of Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and Antwerp, the Brussels-Capital Region and most of the present-day Dutch province of North Brabant.

The Flag of Belgium is based on the colors of Brabant's coat of arms: black, yellow, and red. In Roman times, the territory was situated in the Roman provinces of Belgica and Germania Inferior and inhabited by the Belgae, who were of both Celtic and Germanic origin. At the end of the Roman period they were conquered by the Germanic Franks.

The region's name is first recorded as the Carolingian shire pagus Bracbatensis, located between the rivers Scheldt and Dijle, from bracha "new" and bant "region". It formed the heart of the Low Countries until it was dismembered after the Dutch revolt. Its most important cities were Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven, Breda,'s-Hertogenbosch, Lier and Mechelen.

The Landgraviate of Brabant was established as a feudal imperial fief within Lower Lotharingia. As such, it was an integral part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Duchy of Brabant was formally established in 1183-1184 and the hereditary title of Duke of Brabant was created by Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa in favor of Henry I of Brabant, son of Godfrey III of Leuven. Although the original county was quite small its name was applied to the entire territory under the control of the dukes.

Brabant Arms

In 1430 the Duchies of Lower Lotharingia, Brabant and Limburg were inherited by Philip the Good of Burgundy and became part of the Burgundian Netherlands. In 1477 the title fell to the House of Habsburg by dowry of Mary of Burgundy. At that time the Duchy of Brabant extended from Luttre, south of Nivelles to 's Hertogenbosch, with Leuven as the capital city.

Duchy of Brabant

The subsequent history of Brabant is part of the history of the Habsburg Seventeen Provinces. The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) brought the northern parts (essentially the present Dutch province of North Brabant) under military control of the northern insurgents. After the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the United Provinces' independence was confirmed and northern Brabant was formally ceded to the United Provinces as a federally governed territory.

The southern part remained in Spanish Habsburg hands as a part of the Southern Netherlands. It was transferred to the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs in 1714. During the French occupation of the Southern Netherlands in 1795 the Duchy of Brabant was finally dissolved. The territory was reorganized in two departments of Deux-Nèthes (present province of Antwerp) and Dyle (the later province of Belgian Brabant).

On the left the Duchy of Brabant; territory covering approximately the present Dutch province of North Brabant, the three Belgian provinces Antwerp, Walloon Brabant and Flemish Brabant, and the Brussels-Capital Region.

After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created at the Congress of Vienna, consisting of territories which had been added to France by Napoleon: the former Dutch Republic and the Southern Netherlands. In the newly created kingdom, the former French department Dyle became the new province of South Brabant, named after the former Duchy of Brabant. This is why the modern Dutch province of North Brabant is formally still called North Brabant, despite commonly being referred to as Brabant in the Netherlands.

After the Belgian independence of 1830, the Southern Netherlands became independent as Belgium and later also as Luxembourg. Brabant became the central province of Belgium, with its capital town Brussels.

In 1989 Brussels-Capital Region was created, but the region was still part of the province of Brabant. Only in 1995 the province of Brabant was split further into the Dutch speaking Flemish Brabant, the French speaking Walloon Brabant and the bilingual Brussels-Capital Region. The Brussels-Capital Region exercises the powers of a Province on its own territory.

The Duchy of Limburg

The Duchy of Limburg, situated in the Low Countries between the river Meuse and the city of Aachen, was a state of the Holy Roman Empire. Its territory is presently divided between the Belgian provinces of Liège (northeastern part) and Limburg (Voeren and Rekem), the Dutch province of Limburg (southern part), and a small part of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany (a.o. Herzogenrath).

Its most important cities were the capital Limbourg and Eupen. Linguistically Limburg was situated on the border of Germanic with Romance Europe. While in the northern and eastern districts Limburgish and Ripuarian dialects were spoken, the southwestern part around Herve was dominated by Walloon.

In Roman times, Limburg was situated in the Roman provinces of Germania Inferior and inhabited by Celtic tribes, until Germanic peoples replaced them and made an end to roman imperial rule.

The duchy was formed in the 11th century around the town of Limbourg that can be found in the present-day Wallonia. Duke Frederick of Lower Lorraine, a descendant of Count Palatine Wigeric of Lotharingia, about 1020 had built Limbourg Castle on the banks of the Vesdre River.

As the Lorrainian ducal dignity was contested by the mighty Counts of Leuven, landgraves of Brabant, Waleran's descendants confined themselves to a "duke of Limburg", and reached the confirmation by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1165.

The rise of the Limburg dynasty continued, when Duke Waleran III in 1214 became Count of Luxembourg by marriage with the heiress Ermesinde and his son Henry IV in 1225 became Count of Berg as husband of heiress Irmgard.

Limburg Coats of Arms

However, upon the death of Henry's son Waleran IV in 1279, leaving only one heiress Irmgard, who had married Count Reginald I of Guelders but died childless in 1283, the War of the Limburg Succession broke out. The Duke of Brabant won the final Battle of Worringen in 1288, thereby gaining control of the Duchy of Limburg with the consent by King Rudolph I of Germany.

Map of old Limburg

With the Burgundian heritage of Mary the Rich, it was requested to her husband Maximilian I from the Austrian House of Habsburg in 1482. Combined with the Landen van Overmaas and Maastricht, the duchy became one of the Seventeen Provinces held by the Habsburgs within the Burgundian Circle established in 1512.

The measures of the Council of Troubles implemented by Philip's governor Duke Fernando Álvarez de Toledo of Alba sparked the Eighty Years' War. An area known as Limburg of the States, consisting of parts of Overmaas, was ceded to the Dutch Republic.

On the left, the map of The Duchy of  Limburg as of 1635.

In 1661, the Dutch and the Spanish agreed on the partition of the county of Dalhem. The remainder of the duchy (including Limburg proper) remained under Spanish rule as part of the Southern Netherlands, passing to Austrian rule under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

When the region was occupied by the French in 1794, the Overmaas lands of Limburg of the States became part of the department of Meuse-Inférieure, while the Austrian duchy of Limburg proper was disbanded and was incorporated into the department of Ourthe.

In 1815 the Hertogdom Limburg became a part of the United Kingdom of Netherlands. Ironically, the previous division of Limburg made by Napoleon Bonaparte was sustained by Dutch King leaving the French departments borders. As a consequence, the old Limburg (as a part of the department Ourthe) is today the territory of French Speaking Liege. 

The Treaty of Londen from 1839 divided the territory of Maas-Less (today Limburg) into:

The canton Eupen was added to Belgium in 1920 and today it is part of the Liege province.