Damme

Welcome to the land of suspended time.
The tiny town of Damme is closely linked to Bruges. If the North Sea has brought to power, wealth and fame to the two cities, it is also the same sea that will fall when it withdrew from the lowlands and cause silting of the Zwin1.

Damme was built in the 11th century in the back of a dike protecting the countryside the tidal wave that at the time, were devastating.
Legend has it that the laborers, being unsuccessful block a breach in the dike, took a dog, which for several days screaming to death and threw him into the hole. After this action they managed to butcher the hole. The name and emblem of the city came to this legend.
The first name of the city was Hondesdamme ("the dam of the dog" quickly shortened to "dam"). The name of several cities in the region are directly related to hydraulic engineering structures: Bruges (Brug, "the bridge"), Sluis ("Lock"), Retranchement, Sas van Gent ("Ghent's lock").

Damme's coat of arms

Damme's coat of arms :
We see the dog at the legendary origin
of the name of the city.

Damme thus became the leading port of Bruges, who was the great center of commerce in northern Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries. Thanks to this exceptional situation, the small city obtained the rights to tax wines of Poitou and the Rhine, and for herring. The city became the center of trade for wine in Flanders. All cities, abbeys, lords of Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut and others came to buy their wines to Damme.
Another testament to the reputation of the city, the marriage of Charles the Bold with his third wife, Margaret of York, daughter of Richard of York and sister of two successive kings of England : Edward IV and Richard III. It was July 3, 1468.
This prosperity is reflected even today in many people with the surname of van Damme.
Jacob van Maerlant2 has participated in the definitive fame of Damme in the Middle Ages.

Like its powerful neighbor, the town of Damme fall into lethargy following the closure of the Zwin. Sluis will reprise his role from the 15th century.
In 1616 the bastioned fortifications were built around the city and Damme became a garrison town. The remains of these fortifications still surround the city today.

A desperate attempt of Napoleon in 1811 to make a direct access from Bruges to the sea will be digging the canal that runs through the city today. Unfortunately, this canal will not go further than Sluis and will remain useless.

If Bruges was released from oblivion through Georges Rodenbach's3 novel Bruges-la-Morte in the late 19th century, Damme also find some of its former glory thanks to a novel.
Charles De Coster published in 1867 The Legend of Tijl Uilenspiegel4. The city became a place of pilgrimage literature and the country rediscovered, with astonishment, buried under centuries of neglect, a city of disconcerting luxury.
Damme will become a tourist destination must. With its benefits and drawbacks. As everywhere, the car is king in the little town, somewhat denaturing the quaint, old shacks of another age and isolation in the mid-Flandrian polders.
But the little town has carefully kept intact its most beautiful architectural landmarks : City Hall, Huyse de Grote Sterre, Saint-John Hospital and Our Lady's Church.

Damme

Once is not the case, let's start with a map. The route of the ancient fortifications is clearly visible on this satellite image. The city is cut in half by the Napoleon canal.

Damme

On the banks of the Napoleon Canal. In the background, the Church of Our Lady of Bruges.

Damme

The old mill, saved from ruin in 1967.

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In winter, the frozen canal is a joy for skaters. Otherwise, it lets passively reflect the landscape.

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Planted like a lighthouse, the imposing bell tower of Our Lady Church.

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To say that this place was a first-class European shopping center. It's hard to believe nowadays.

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The endless and useless canal towards Sluis.

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The Saint-Christopher provost (18th century), today isolated from the rest of the city by the canal.

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The only boat to walk the canal, in the beautiful season.

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Statue of Jacob van Maerlant, on the Grand'Place and turning his back on City Hall.

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The bell-tower of the town hall. It houses the two oldest bells of Flanders (1392 and 1398), as well as a carillon. The clock would be the oldest in Belgium (1459).

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City Hall. Built in stone in 1464 in Brabant Gothic style. Restored between 1978 and 1982.

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Hanging on the corner of the building, the curious stones of justice. Sentenced women had to wear these stones as penance. As for the men, they were attached to the pillory, meanwhile disappeared.

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Huyze de Grote Sterre from the entrance of the town hall. It's actually two houses united in the 17th century.

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The houses date from the 13th century but new brick facades were built in the 15th century. The King of Spain will make a private possession during the invasion in 1615.

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Ruined by a long neglect, the facade collapses in 1992. A reconstruction with the original materials will make it shine just after. There is nowadays the tourist office.

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The main square.

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Antique small house in the Pottenbakkersstraat. This lane leads to the Herring Market.

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The Haningmarkt. From the frenzy of the market to the herring of the time, there remains only this peaceful place.

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It is far from the time when the city was home to merchants from all over Europe...

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The venerable Saint-John Hospital, founded in 1249.

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From the original complex, all that remains is the Romanesque chapel.

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Emerging from the roofs of the city, the huge vessel of Our Lady Church.

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The whole history of the city is summarized here. From the church, which was too small and then enlarged, came the decline and ruin of a church that had suddenly become too big.

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The apse of Our Lady. The large windows were not pierced until the beginning of the 20th century.

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The influence of the Tournaisian Gothic is clearly visible on the flat bedside of the lateral choirs.

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The apse of Our Lady and the Kerkstraat.

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The church and the remains of the 17th century Onze-Lieve-Vrouwepoort.

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One of the moats surrounding the ancient fortifications. They are nowadays only peaceful streams winding through the fields.

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The last guardians of the city : the gates controlling the level of the ditches of the fortifications.

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The church separated from its tower, stranded on the edge of a city of lost glory.

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At the limits of the old city. In the 19th century, demographics picked up slightly and some new neighborhoods were established outside the precincts.

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When the city and nature go hand in hand Damme is surrounded by a green belt.

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The church tower that rang the marriage of Charles the Bold and Margaret of York in 1468.

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Under the church tower. The large walled window once illuminated the interior of the nave.

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The funerary monument of Jacob van Maerlant.

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Saint-John Hospital from the cemetery.

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At the foot of the tower. It stands proudly for more than eight centuries.

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The old forecourt of the church.

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The condition of the masonry isn’t the best...

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The vessel of the church walled since the disappearance of the transept and the nave.

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The peaceful enclosure of the church.

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Constituting, with the nave, the oldest element of the building, it was erected in 1225. It originally had a spire and four corner ridge turrets.

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Its only openings are the abat-sons of the bells. This makes its appearance severe and not welcoming.

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Turret access to the bell tower.

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The mixture of materials of the base gives free space to the brick from the first floor.

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Gradual removal of the solid buttresses of the tower.

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Pointing towards a typical autumnal sky.

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Its only decorations are blind arcades which also brighten up somewhat the monument.

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The storey of the bells in close-up. A good restoration would be welcome.

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Only openings of the south face have arcades in broken arch and a small oculus surmounting the whole. The modern world has decked it with a graceful mobile phone relay.

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The tower, the ruins and the present church from the cemetery.

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The triplets of the old nave, inspired by Tournai.

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The transept seen from an alley of the cemetery.

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The last houses of the city over the old fortifications.

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The current church. The original choir (the two spans on the left) dates from the end of the 13th century. The extension of 1340 (right spans) will make the choir longer than the nave.

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The ruins of the nave.

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The Geuzen plundered the building in 1578.

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Between 1621 and 1626, the church is restored.

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But soon the maintenance of the monument cost too much. The silting up of Zwin will cause a fall of the population.

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The population had grown from some 6,000 to just 745. Too little to maintain such a church in what is now a small village without a future.

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It was decided to demolish the spire of the tower, the nave and the transept in 1725. The arches of the aisles of the nave are also walled.

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Fortunately, the walls of the nave were preserved. These were essential to the stability of the tower.

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A new facade, very simple, now closes the church at the level of the old transept.

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Since then, we have this unique monument.

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An alley now passes in the middle of the church.

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An access door to a private dwelling in the church enclosure.

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The entrance to the church enclosure.

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The museum of war and peace in the Burgstraat.

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The spire of the Saint-John Hospital...

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... and the tower of Our Lady watch over the sleeping city.

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The museum at the edge of the city.

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The town hall spire and the legendary greyhound proudly dominate the houses.

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Small house abandoned along the canal.

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The sentry of the canal is peacefully waiting for his next visitors.

31

October 2010

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Notes

  1. The Zwin is an old arm of the sea today silted. It was created following the tidal wave of 1134. It was immediately used by Bruges to access the North Sea. Unfortunately, it also settled very quickly and more and more distant harbors were created : Damme, Sluis and during the 20th century, Zeebrugge.
  2. Born in Damme around 1250. Considered one of the fathers of Dutch literature, he is one of the most prolific authors (230,000 verses) of the Middle Ages, whose main works are adaptations of French and Latin.
  3. Born in Tournai in 1855 and died in Paris in 1898, he will be the first Belgian writer to succeed in the French capital. Friend of Emile Verhaeren, French-speaking Flemish, fervent Belgian patriot but also champion of the emancipation of Flanders, he sums up all the contradictions of Belgium today.
  4. Legendary character of German origin, it will be adapted by Charles De Coster in 1867 who will make a figure of the Flemish resistance against the Spanish occupation in the sixteenth century. His name means "mischievous".

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