Abstract

Artists of the XVII Provinces contributed considerably to cartography. For instance, Peter Pourbus, a Bruges painter, is the author of maps of Zeeland and of the Zwin Region, an area that Emperor Charles V (1500–1577) was anxious to protect against a seaborne enemy invasion. The coastal areas of Flanders and Zeeland were repeatedly covered, in prehistoric, protohistoric, and historic times, by the North Sea waters. The storm of the 13th century broke through continental barriers, opening a channel whose draught allowed ships to sail up to such towns as Sluis, Damme, and Hoek, sites that became, for several centuries, outer harbors of Bruges. The trade thus generated is at the origin of Bruges's wealth, leading to the Zwin inlet being nicknamed the “Golden Inlet.” Sadly, silting set in and occlusion of the inlet progressed inexorably. This benefited Antwerp, which took up the declining trade of Bruges. The richest city of northwestern Europe yielded thus to a sister city that would be, for several centuries, the largest city of the world. The Zwin inlet is today just a natural swimming pool. And at high tide a rivulet of water allows some canoes to manœuver. On the other hand, the region became a world-celebrated bird and plant natural refuge. Yet Bruges, like the phoenix reemerged from ashes, is again a ranking port, thanks to sea canals linking it to the sea and an artificial harbor (Zeebrugge) some 20 km south of the Zwin inlet's mouth, in full expansion. On the shoreline, erosion and sedimentation have brought about new modifications, some of which impact faunal presence, while others might trigger a political “tempest in a teapot.”

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