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Veurne (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)


Last modified: 2021-06-19 by ivan sache
Keywords: veurne | furnes |
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Municipal flag of Veurne - Image by Filip van Laenen, 18 November 2001

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Presentation of Veurne

The municipality of Veurne (in French, Furnes; 11,832 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 9,634 ha; municipal website) is located in the Westhoek, 10 km from the North Sea and on the border with France. The municipality of Veurne was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Veurne (8,523 inh.; 2,267 ha; including Avekapelle [377 inh.; 458 ha], Booitshoeke [96 inh.; 335 ha], Bulskamp [677 inh.; 803 ha], Eggewaartskapelle [181 inh.; 490 ha], Steenkerke [427 inh.; 1,179 ha] and Zoutenaaie [17 inh.; 207 ha] since 1971), Houtem (671 inh.; 1,271 ha; including De Moeren - in French, Les Moëres; 129 inh.; 1,158 ha - since 1971), Vinkem (358 inh.; 527 ha) and Wulveringem (345 inh.; 937 ha). Vinkem and Wulveringem formed the short-lived municipality of Beauvoord from 1971 to 1976. Veurne is the only significant town in the municipality, the other components being small polder villages. Houtem and De Moeren are located on the border with France.

Veurne was mentioned for the first time, as Furnae, in 877, on the list of the possessions of the St. Bertinus abbey in Saint-Omer. The name of the town most probably comes from the small island dominating the marshes, on which a fortress was built against the Northmen and became one of the best defended places in Flanders. Granted municipal rights in the 12th century, Veurne was member of the London Hansa, a group of Flemish towns that traded with London. After the break of the relations between Flanders and England in 1270, Veurne experienced a crisis that lasted until the end of the 16th century and yielded to its inhabitants the nickname of Veurnse Slapers (The Veurne Sleepers).

In 1586, the two administrative divisions of Veurne, the town and the "Ambacht" (a domain with a Higher Court, encompassing 42 parishes), were united. The town resumed its growth during the peaceful rule of Archdukes Albert and Isabel (1598-1621); most of the historic buildings still visible in Veurne date from that period (Flemish Renaissance style). The baroque belfry, built in 1628, is registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List, together with other belfrys in Belgium and northern France. In 1604, Wenzel Cobergher, Albert and Isabel's main architect, organized the draining of the marshy area of De Moeren / Les Moëres and its transformation into a fertile polder (located today for 1/3 in Belgium and 2/3 in France). In 1637, Jacob Clou, a Norbertine monk from the St. Nicholas abbey in Veurne, organized the first Penitents' Procession. Louis XIV's wars and the War of the Spanish Succession ended the blossoming period of Veurne.

In 1830, Veurne was the first Belgian town to welcome the new king Léopold I. After the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, Karel Cogge, controller of the northern waterways in Veurne, advized the seaman Hendrik Gheeraert to flood the region of Yser, thus blocking the advance of the Germans and allowing the Belgians to withdraw behind the Nieuwpoort-Diksmuide railway line for the next four years. King of the Belgians Albert I set his headquarters in the Town Hall of Veurne, where he met the French President and the King of England; in January 1915, the headquarters were moved to the presbytery of Houtem and stayed there until the last attack in 1918. On 16 August 1917, the Royal family moved from De Panne to the Sint-Flora manor in De Moeren.
Between the two World Wars, peace resumed in Veurne, an atmosphere described by Georges Simenon in his novel Le bourgmestre de Furnes (1939). The book describes the rise and fall of Jos Terlinck, the son of a poor shrimp fisher from Koksijde (Coxyde in the book), who became a wealthy cigare manufacturer and eventually expelled the brewer Van Hamme from the Mayor's office. In Chapter I, Simenon writes:

[...] les cigares "Vlaamsche Vlag", que Terlinck fabriquait. Vlaamsche Vlag ! Drapeau flamand !
("[...] the "Vlaamsche Vlag" cigares, manufactured by Terlinck. Vlaamsche Vlag! Flemish flag!")

Terlinck's cigares are back in Chapter VI, under a slightly different name:

Sur les pignons des maisons basses, on avait peint en jaune et rouge "Cigares Vlag Van Vlanderen". Ses cigares ! Avec le drapeau flamand et le gros homme béat qui fumait en esquissant un clin d'œl !
("On the gables of the low-roofed houses was painted in yellow and red "Cigares Vlag Van Vlanderen". His cigares! With the Flemish flag and the fat man smoking while half-making a wink.")

The town of Veurne was awarded the French Cross of War with Palms by President René Poincaré in 1920. In May 1940, Veurne was heorically defended by the Brits during their withdrawal to Duinkerk, following the capitulation of Belgium. For strategic reasons, several polders surrounding the town were flooded, especially at the end of the war; the inflow of salty water was a disaster for the rich land of De Moeren.

The pianist Frans Brouw was born in Veurne in 1929. Winner of the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Contest in 1952, he was awarded the title of Honour Citizen of Veurne. The same honour was awarded to King Albert I; to the painter Paul Delvaux, who lived in Veurne from 1971 to his death in 1994; to the industrial Walter Plaetink (b. 1931), founder of the Bakery Museum in Veurne; to the singer Will Tura, born in Veurne as Arthur Blanckaert in 1940; and to the singer and (ice) sculptor Willem Vermandere (b. 1940), who settled in Steenkerke in 1974.

Ivan Sache, 13 January 2008

Flag of Veurne

The flag of Veurne is vertically divided black-yellow-green.
The flag, adopted on on 27 October 1986 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Decree issued on 10 December 1986 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 3 December 1987 in the Belgian official gazette.
The flag, already used by the municipality of Veurne before the municipal reform of 1976, shows the colours of the municipal arms, "Or a lion rampant sable charged with a trefoil vert. The shield surmounted by a marquess' coronet, the French War Cross with Palm appended to it".
[Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02a]]

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 9 December 2007