The small and quiet city of Middelburg (pop. 47,000) is the capital of the province of Zeeland. It is situated on the peninsula of Walcheren, between the estuaries of the Eastern Scheldt and the Western Scheldt.
Middelburg was founded as a "burg" (fortified town) in the 9th century to guard against Viking raids. The first abbey was built in 844, and was replaced by a new one in 1125.
Middelburg was part of the County of Zeeland, which was soon to be disputed by the Counts of Holland and those of Flanders. The city was granted a charter of rights in 1217. In 1299, Holland and Zeeland both passed to the Counts of Hainaut, then to the Wittelsbach of Bavaria in 1345, to the Dukes of Burgundy a century later, and finally to the Habsburgs.
The Eighty Years' War (1568-1648) with Spain resulted the independence of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, of which Zeeland was part.
Middelburg became a major trading city between England and the cities of Flanders (e.g. Ghent and Bruges), then, from 17th century, for the Dutch East India Company. The Gothic townhall reflects the Flemish influence of the late medieval period, while the beautiful townhouses were built on the wealth from the colonial activities.
Much of the city was destroyed by German bombing in May 1940, but most of the historical buildings were reconstructed afterwards.
The main interest of the city is its beautiful townhouses and pleasant atmosphere. The historic centre is surrounded by the old moat and a few surving gates. Spaniaardstraat (Spanairds Street) and Singelstraat, between the Abbey and the Oostkerk, have some of the nicest constructions in town.
Dominating on the Markt (town square), the late Gothic Stadhuis (town hall), completed in 1458, is the architectural jewel of the city. It is ornated with statues of the Burgundian rulers of the time. The various halls inside are decorated with Flemish tapestries.
The Abdij (abbey) is a vast enclosed abbatial complex. The southern part is composed of the eye-catching 91m tower, affectionately called 'Lange Jan' (Long John) by the locals, as well as three churches : the 14th-century Koorkerk, the 16th-century Nieuwe kerk and the 17th-century Wandelkerk. The northern section houses the Zeeuws Museum, renovated in 2007 by a well-known Belgian architect. The museum has a fine collections of china, silver and paintings, and tapestries.
North-east of the abbey, the Oostkerk ("East Church") is an octagonal Baroque structure topped by a dome.
How to get there
Middelburg is located toward the western end of the Walcheren peninsula, on the E312 from Eindhoven via Tilburg, Breda, Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom. Coming from Belgium, take the A12 from Antwerp toward Bergen op Zoom, then the E312 to Goes and Middelburg. Coming from Rotterdam or Amsterdam, take the E19 till Breda, then the E312 toward Bergen op Zoom.
Trains take 30min from Bergen op Zoom. There are a few direct trains from Rotterdam (1h30min) and Amsterdam (2h30min), but most trains from elsewhere in the Netherlands or from Belgium require a change at Roosendaal (50min from Middelburg).
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