Ostend is a Belgian city of about 90.000 people, the largest at the Belgian coast. In earlier times, it was nothing more than a small village built on an island (called Testerep) between the North Sea and a beach lake. Although small, the village rose to the status of 'city' around 1265 when the inhabitants were allowed to hold a market and to build a market hall.
The major source of income for the inhabitants was, of course, fishing. The North Sea coastline has always been rather unstable and in 1395 the inhabitants decided to build a new Ostend behind large dikes and further away from the always threatening sea.
The strategic position on the North Sea coast had major advantages for Ostend as a harbor but also proved to be a source of trouble. The city was frequently taken, destroyed and rampaged by conquering armies. After their independence from the Spanish Empire, the Dutch had preserved some strongholds in the Southern Netherlands, such as the cities of Nieuwpoort and Ostend. Between 1601 and 1604 the Spanish army succeeded in taking Ostend from the Geuzen (= Protestant Dutch seperationists).
After this era Ostend turned into a quiet harbour of some importance. In 1722 the Dutch closed off the entrance to the harbour of Antwerp. Therefore, Ostend rose in importance because the city provided an alternative entrance to the sea. The Southern Netherlands (now Belgium) had become part of the Austrian Empire. The Austrian Emperor Charles VI granted the city the trade monopoly with Africa and the Far-East. The Oostendse Compagnie (= the Ostend trade society) was allowed to found colonies overseas. However, in 1727 the Oostendse Compagnie was forced to stop its activities because of Dutch and British pressure. Holland and Britain would not allow competitors on the international trade level. But nations regarded international trade as their privilege.
In later times the harbour of Ostend continued to expand because the harbor dock, as well as the traffic connections with the hinterland, were improved. In 1838 a railway connection with Brussels was constructed. Ostend became a transit harbour to England in 1846 when the first Ferryboat sailed to Dover. Very important for the image of the city was the attention it started to receive from the Belgian kings Leopold I of Belgium and Leopold II. Both liked to spent their vacations in Ostend. Important monuments and villas were built to please the Royal Family. The rest of aristocratic Belgium followed and soon Ostend became known as "The Queen of the Belgian sea-side resorts".
The flag bears the colours red (above) and yellow (below). Interesting locations are the Casino and Fort Napoleon.
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