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According to the Genesis the "water" and the "country" were separated on the third day of creations and they pulled themselves back obediently. In our far Westhoek the command was probably heard only half: it took centuries of dawdling and repeatedly the sea came, in a sneaky or brutal way, and everything submerged. Till, about a thousand years ago, our ancestors had enough of it and lend a helping hand by throwing up a bank. On n'est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même....

In the Neolithic period (± 9.000 to 4.800 B.C.) our regions were a swampy and marshy plain with here and there low dune chains, heath and little beech woods. Presumably, no people will have lived here. However, now and then, bold fellows with stone fist hatchets and flint weapons came from the "Houtland" to hunt water game.

At that time, the IJzer run into the sea about fifteen kilometres north of Lombardsijde.

During the Iron Age (grosso modo from thousand B.C. up to our present era) the marshes dried out more and more and the population came closer.

The Belgians, who should later be the bravest of all Celts, moved for instance into our plain in the 4th century B.C. One tribe, in particular, the Morins, settled as close as possible to the sea, on the islands rising above the sea at low tide. And when later the Romans wanted to conquer this part, there was a prickly guerrilla war, from which Caesar was slightly shocked. With sorties from their refuges, among which, indeed, Isera Portus, they fended off the invincible legions. Annoyed and probably to spare himself against Rome, Caesar spoke of an untold swamp, from which you did not know exactly which part was land and which water, with tremendous tides and a poor population living on mounds to keep their feet dry.

Nevertheless, after some time, among Caesar's successors, the Morins had to submit themselves, and their ports, especially Boulogne, were used for the traffic with Britain.

By the time of the decay of the Roman Empire the Saxon, Suevi and Frisians came from the north and started occupying our region more and more. It was also the period, in which the second transgression of Dunkirk began: more than half of the actual West Flanders and a part of the French Flanders were flooded. Only a small amount of dune islands along the coast remained above sea level: the biggest one extended from Malo up to the present Sint-Joris.

It probably takes three centuries till the sea withdraws and meanwhile the Franconians had invaded the country. But as far as we can trace back, they never reached the islands, because when in the 7th century Saint Elooi put on his bold water boots, he found "Flandrenses, Andoverpenses, Frisones et Suevi" from which he alleged that they were poor people having nothing in common with the Franconians!

Around the 7th - 8th century the sea goes back again. The coast islands are buried under more and more sand and the maritime plain turns back into a landscape of saltings and mud flats. Isera Portus, the cove of the IJzer, going just up to Diksmuide, reduces again.

Settlements arise: Lo (841), Veurne (860), Alveringem (857). The people from the Houtland move again towards the beach and the first bank is built as a kind of protection: it ran from the Groene Dijk via Wulpen, Booitshoeke, Avekapelle up to the IJzer at Knokkefort.

The IJzer moved its delta more to the south, because of a soil subsidence and bordered on the a.m. dune island, on which Nieuwpoort is supposed to be built later. In connection with this protected dune, we hear for the first time about "Zandhoofd" in the 9th century.

The misery with the sea was hardly forgotten or … "Lord save us from the rage of the Vikings!". According to a tradition they had landed already the first time in Isera Portos in 861. It's a fact that from 881 till 885 they plundered and massacred systematically and thoroughly the whole IJzer region. Remains of their victims can still be found under the ruins of the dune abbey and, according to the local curator, the direct ancestors of our people from the Westhoek are concerned.
Is it amazing that the people from the Westhoek, fishermen and others, who had to defend themselves during many generations against the sea and against every Tom, Dick and Harry, have become a dour and tough race?

In the eleventh century the sea came back: this third transgression of Dunkirk was not so bad as the previous one, but the whole region up to Diksmuide was flooded again. Logically, the population searches for refuge on the parts being higher and we may assume that Zandhoofd, that never swamped, was attracting more and more people.

Now silting up and diking go much faster than in the past, largely under stimulation of the abbeys (Dune abbey 1107).

New villages are founded: Oostduinkerke (1080), Ramskapelle (1120)…

The long dune island is getting larger and larger by alluvial soil. Saltings, ideal for sheep breeding, are bordering and finally the name of Zandhoofd is nestled in history.

1085 Abbot Ingelbrecht of the St.-Winnoksabbey in Bergues exchanges with Robrecht de Fries a villa (!) situated on Sandashovad.
1108 Earl Robrecht gives a piece of salting, with the name of Sandashovad, to the abbey of Broekburg.
1120 A bull of Pope Calixtus II mentions Sandeshove.
1183 The inhabitants of Sandeshoven (although already officially renamed on the name of Nieuwpoort)
address a letter to Pope Lucius III.

Some more years (a.o. in 1274 and in 1365) the two names: Sandeshove and Nieuwpoort are still mixed up. But the melodious and much older Sandeshove was inferior to Novus Portus or Nieuwpoort.

Not only Nieuwpoort and Sandeshove are identified with each other still for a long time. In 1150 Isera Portus is still mentioned and in 1163 there is some talk of Neoportus and Novum Oppidum. Nevertheless Novus Portus (Nieuwpoort) is used more and more and finally gets the upper hand.

Why this rename? In 1150 Isera Portus had already extended to a settlement, which meanwhile was more important that Lombardsijde, a town. To make matters worse for the people of Lombardsijde, the northern arm of the IJzer silted up more and more, and a more suitable location for a port had to be found. Philip of the Alsace did the most obvious thing: he created a completely new city, taking in the older Zandhoofd, systematically parcelled in straight streets, with walls around and reinforcements. In order to make his support real, he gave a charter, with rights and freedoms, to the new port and town, and finally a new name which was determined forever: 1163: NOVUS PORTUS.

From that time the history of our town is put on record, neat and decently, however not less turbulent than before.
A small selection:


A natural port such as Nieuwpoort had to become the object of many military ambitions. Without wanting to talk about the Romans, Vikings and company, the town survived the following sieges:

1213 French siege and destruction of the town.
1299 ditto
1328 ditto
1383 this time de people of Ghent. The town was set on fire and destroyed.
1489 the French, people of Bruges and Ghent: the siege has been beaten off thanks to the aid of the courageous women of Nieuwpoort, from whom Mathias Reynoudt says that they have fought "soo cloeckelijkcke" as Amazons!
1576-1583 occupation by the Dutchmen.
1600 the famous battle of Nieuwpoort. After their victory in Lombardsijde, the Dutchmen are firing at the town. The besieged break out a few times and the besiegers slink off.
1647 a siege by the French general Turenne has been beaten off.
1658 again the French with the same result.
1745 the French armies attack the town that had to surrender.
1793 the French general Van Damme besieges Nieuwpoort during six days and surrenders.
1794 again the French, this time they occupy the town
1914 Nieuwpoort is nearly completely destroyed by the German artillery, but never been occupied
thanks to the flooding of the IJzer plain.
1940 the town is pounded by the Germans and occupied. This time for more than four years.

The French, Dutchmen, Dutchmen, French, people of Bruges and of Ghent … only a tough race can survive all this!


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