IJzendijke, Petit Paris
IJzendijke is a quaint little village in de borough of Sluis situated in West Zeeland Flanders, part of the province Zeeland and has today more than two thousand inhabitants. Until April 1970 Ijzendijke was an independent community, then it became part of the borough of Oostburg (till 2003).
Originally, in the middle ages, Ijzendijke was situated at the banks of the Braakman. Its wealth was based on the prospering trade with cloth and wool. So it became a flourishing market and seaport which round about 1280 belonged to the Hansa of London. The upcoming weaving mills in Flanders sold their products mostly to England and shipped those trading goods via the seaports of Brugge, Damme, Sluis, Aardenburg and Ijzendijke.
The merchants also exported Rhine wine and brought wool, tin, lead, skins and fur from England. In 1303, the hamlet received its town charter.
Sixty years later Old-Ijzendijke was more than once seriously menaced by the sea. The area round the Braakman was flooded for the first time on 9th October 1374 (First Dionysius Flood) and once again on 8th October 1375. This flood formed the so called “Zuudzee”. In the years that followed several polders were dyked and new parishes established. But again, on 19th November 1404 the so called “First St. Elizabeth Flood” washed over the land. The headland with Ijzendijke and Hugevliet had been spared in 1374 and was now engulfed as well.
During the Eighty Year’s War the duke of Parma had an fortress complex with four bastions built at the north-western part of the former town. But in the year 1604 Prince Maurits expelled the Spaniards.
Subsequently, the Dutch military engineers Simon Stevin and Menno van Coehoorn fortified the rampart to a nearly impregnable fortress of the Dutch army against the Spaniards.
From 1610 till 1616 Joost van Laren (1586-1653) was Protestant pastor of the fortress. He is most likely the pastor who built the Protestant church which was consecrated in 1612. Later in the 17th century, Wilhelminus Comantius (approx. 1586 – 1653) was pastor in Ijzendijke. Originally, the church was octagonal and between 1656 and 1659 it was widened by the plan of master-builder Sebastiaan de Roy from Hulst and the local carpenter Jan Willemsen.
During the 17th and 18th century, the fortress Ijzendijke offered brave resistance to several attacks. But for the years 1747-1748 and 1794-1840 Ijzendijke had been in French hands. Napoleon often used to reward his military leaders with land and therefore a good deal of the territory in Zeeland Flanders became property of French and Walloon nobles in those days.
Even after 1814, a respectable part of the land still remained in French and Walloon hands.
After 1814 the Dutch government abandoned most of the fortress Ijzendijke. During the Belgian Revolt in 1830/31 it had been armed with men, weapons and ammunition for the last time. It was six o’clock in the morning on 2 August 1831 when the commander-in-chief of the Dutch troops in Zeeland Flanders, lieutenant of the infantry Joseph Ledel (1779-1835) held a council of war with his officers in Ijzendijke. At eight o’clock fire was opened on the Belgian troops at the sluice near the “Kapitalen Dam” and also on those at the redoubt at the “Verlaat”. A company of the 9th infantry battalion under captain Schwarz and a company of troopers under captain Deinema expelled the Belgians from both places.
It remained turbulent in Zeeland Flanders because of hostilities on both sides until 12 August but then the armistice was in effect in West Zeeland Flanders.
Between 1841 and 1843 the last pieces of the fortress were demolished but in the 20th century a small part of the former fortification was restored. The fortress of today offers evidence to that.
The last wartime violence in which Ijzendijke was involved is more recent, it was in October 1944. Ijzendijke became part of the front because of the fight for the Westerschelde between the Germans and the Allies (operation Switchback). The damage was enormous but the original character of this place was rebuilt in old glory as far as possible.
The yearly draught-horse market in July and October together with the examination and approval of the horses had always been characteristic of Ijzendijke. The yearly “Folkloristic Day” and the quadrennial international examination and approval of the draught-horses are remnants of those old markets.
Besides the marketplace with the statue of Prince Maurits sitting at the chessboard and checkmating his opponents, the Spaniards, you can visit “De Veste” (the fortress), the mill of Ijzendijke, the oldest church in Zeeland which was built explicitly for Protestant services, and the 19th century brewery “Cadzandria”.
A monument at the “Isabellaweg” reminds of the tragedy of 20 October 1944 as 41 allied soldiers lost their lives during the liberation of West Zeeland Flanders.
The local museum located in the old townhall at the market was formerly dedicated to the Zeeland Flanders folklore. In April 2006 it was re-opened as “Het Bolwerk” (the bulwark), information centre for the “Staats-Spaanse linies” (frontlines of the Eighty Year’s War between the Dutch and the Spaniards), the Dutch fight for independence against the Spaniards, the Eighty Year’s War, the campaigns of Prince Maurits, de definite fixing of the borders between 1600 and 1612 as well as the forming of the Dutch national identity of those days.
By and by the archaeological remnants of the former fight for independence shall be visualized in the landscape of Zeeland Flanders, a good deal more than today.