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Ostend
Promenade at Ostend seaside
Promenade at Ostend seaside
Flag of Ostend
Flag
Coat of arms of Ostend
Coat of arms
Country Belgium
Region Flemish Region
Community Flemish Community
Province West Flanders
Arrondissement Ostend
Area
 • Total 37.72 km2 (14.56 sq mi)
Population (January 2010)
 • Total 69,064
 • Density 1,830.97/km2 (4,742.2/sq mi)
Demographics
 • Foreigners 3.95% (1 July 2005)
Postal codes 8400
Area codes 059

Ostend is a Belgian coastal city and municipality, located in the province of West Flanders. It comprises the boroughs of Mariakerke, Raversijde, Stene and Zandvoorde, and the city of Ostend proper – the largest on the Belgian coast.

History

Origin to Middle Ages

In earlier times, Ostend was a small village built on the east-end (oost-einde) of an island (originally called Testerep) between the North Sea and a beach lake. Although small, the village rose to the status of "town" 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 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.

15th to 18th century

Ostend, Belgium ; Ferraris Map
Ostend on the Ferraris map (around 1775)
PPkerk(01)
St Petrus and St Paulus Church
Oostende Europacentrum 01
Beach, seafront and Europacenter building

The strategic position on the North Sea coast had major advantages for Ostend as a harbour but also proved to be a source of trouble. The town was frequently taken, ravaged, ransacked and destroyed by conquering armies. The Dutch rebels, the Gueuzen, took control of the town. The Siege of Ostend, 1601 to 1604, of which it was said that "the Spanish assailed the unassailable and the Dutch defended the indefensible", cost a combined total of more than 80,000 dead or wounded, making it the single bloodiest battle of the Eighty Years' War. This shocking event set in motion negotiations that led to a truce several years later. When the truce broke down, it became a Dunkirker base.

After this era, Ostend was turned into a harbour of some importance. In 1722, the Dutch again closed off the entrance to the world's biggest harbour of Antwerp, the Westerschelde. Therefore, Ostend rose in importance because the town provided an alternative exit to the sea. The Belgium Austriacum had become part of the Austrian Empire. The Austrian Emperor Charles VI granted the town the trade monopoly with Africa and the Far-East. The Oostendse Compagnie (Ostend trade company) was allowed to found colonies overseas. However, in 1727 the Oostendse Compagnie was forced to stop its activities because of Dutch and British pressure. The Netherlands and Britain would not allow competitors on the international trade level. Both nations regarded international trade as "their" privilege.

19th century

On 19 September 1826 the local artillery magazine exploded. At least 20 people were killed and a further 200 injured. The affluent quarter of d'Hargras was levelled and scarcely a building in the city escaped damage. Disease followed the devastation leading to further deaths.

The harbour of Ostend continued to expand because the harbour 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 ferry sailed to Dover. Important for the image of the town was the attention it started to receive from the Belgian kings Leopold I and Leopold II. Both monarchs liked to spend their holidays in Ostend. Important monuments and villas were built to please the Royal Family, including the Hippodrome Wellington horse racing track and the Royal Galleries. The rest of aristocratic Belgium followed and soon Ostend became known as "the queen of the Belgian sea-side resorts".

In 1866, Ostend was the venue for a crucial meeting of exile Spanish Liberals and Republicans which laid the framework for a major uprising in their country , culminating in Spain's Glorious Revolution two years later.

20th century

Ostend (in common with nearly the entirety of the country) was occupied by German forces and used as an access point to the sea for submarines and other light naval forces for much of the duration of World War I. As a consequence the port was subjected to two naval assaults by the Royal Navy.

The town hosted all of the sailing events for the 1920 Summer Olympics for Antwerp. Only the finals of the 12 foot dinghy were sailed in Amsterdam. Ostend also hosted the polo events.

World War II involved a second occupation of the town by Germany within a period of little more than twenty years; an occupation which it shared this time with most of northern Europe. Both conflicts brought significant destruction to Ostend. In addition, other opulent buildings which had survived the wars were later replaced with structures in the modernist architecture style.

Sights

Ostend is known for its sea-side esplanade, including the Royal Galleries of Ostend, pier, and fine-sand beaches. Ostend is visited by many day-trippers heading to the beaches, especially during July and August. Tourists from inland Belgium and foreigners mostly arrive by train (day trips) and head for the closest beach area, the Klein Strand, located next to the pier. The locals and other residents in Belgium usually occupy the larger beach (het Groot Strand).

Near the beach is a well-preserved section of the fortified Atlantic Wall, open to the public as the Atlantic Wall Open Air Museum located in Raversijde. One can walk through the streets around Het Vissersplein. At certain times, there are markets in the neighbourhood streets and in the summer the Vissersplein has music festivals. The Vissersplein (Bonenstraat/Kadzandstraat) is a car free zone with many brasseries where patrons can sit outside and have a drink. Towards the port side there are many little fish outlets, and beyond that the ferries can be observed docking.

Notable sites include:

  • the Casino and Fort Napoleon, Ostend.
  • Oostende railway station.
  • The Mercator, the ex training sailing ship for Belgian merchant navy officers, now open to the public to view.
  • Hippodrome Wellington, horse racing venue.
  • St Petrus and St Paulus Church, Ostend (Sint-Petrus-en-Pauluskerk), built in Neo Gothic style.

Museums

The James Ensor museum can be visited in the house where the artist lived from 1917 until 1949.

The Mu.Zee (merged from the Provinciaal Museum voor de Moderne Kunst and the Museum voor Schone Kunsten) is the museum of modern art (from the 1830s to the present) and displays works of noted local painters such as James Ensor, Leon Spilliaert, Constant Permeke and the revolutionary post-war Belgian COBRA movement amongst others.

Oostende panoramic view
Ostend beach and the promenade pier – panoramic view

Climate

Ostend has a maritime temperate climate, influenced by winds from the North Sea, making summers cooler than inland Europe. 24-hour average temperatures below the freezing point is a rare occurrence. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Ostend has a marine west coast climate, abbreviated "Cfb" on climate maps.

Climate data for Ostend (1981–2010 normals; sunshine 1984–2013)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 6.2
(43.2)
7.0
(44.6)
10.6
(51.1)
13.8
(56.8)
16.8
(62.2)
19.3
(66.7)
21.7
(71.1)
22.0
(71.6)
19.7
(67.5)
15.3
(59.5)
10.1
(50.2)
6.6
(43.9)
14.5
(58.1)
Daily mean °C (°F) 3.7
(38.7)
3.8
(38.8)
6.8
(44.2)
9.1
(48.4)
12.6
(54.7)
15.3
(59.5)
17.6
(63.7)
17.4
(63.3)
14.9
(58.8)
11.3
(52.3)
7.2
(45)
4.2
(39.6)
10.5
(50.9)
Average low °C (°F) 1.0
(33.8)
0.7
(33.3)
2.8
(37)
4.5
(40.1)
8.4
(47.1)
11.2
(52.2)
13.2
(55.8)
12.9
(55.2)
10.6
(51.1)
7.6
(45.7)
4.4
(39.9)
1.8
(35.2)
6.6
(43.9)
Precipitation mm (inches) 64.6
(2.543)
53.2
(2.094)
55.0
(2.165)
44.9
(1.768)
58.8
(2.315)
66.3
(2.61)
66.4
(2.614)
77.7
(3.059)
77.6
(3.055)
84.2
(3.315)
85.8
(3.378)
78.2
(3.079)
812.7
(31.996)
Avg. precipitation days 12.5 10.1 11.0 9.3 10.1 9.6 8.9 9.3 10.5 12.0 13.2 12.8 129.5
Sunshine hours 63 83 129 190 219 217 230 215 157 119 65 49 1,736
Source: Royal Meteorological Institute

Transport

Ostend–Bruges International Airport located 5km from Ostend is primarily a freight airport but offers passenger flights to leisure destinations in Southern Europe and Turkey. TUI fly Belgium has its headquarters in Ostend. TAAG Angola Airlines's Ostend offices are on the grounds of Ostend Airport.

The Ostend railway station is a major hub on the National Railway Company of Belgium network with frequent InterCity trains serving Brugge railway station, Gent-Sint-Pieters, Brussels South and Liège-Guillemins on Belgian railway line 50A.

Ostend formerly had busy ferry routes to Dover and Ramsgate, but the last of these services ended with the failure of TransEuropa Ferries in 2013.

Gallery


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