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West-Vlaanderen is one of Belgium's ten provinces, located in the westernmost part of the country. The province lies on the shores of the North Sea, being Belgium's only access to the sea. Additionally, the area borders the Dutch province of Zeeland to the northeast and the French department of Nord to the west. The capital city, Bruges, is located in the north-central part of the province. Bruges is known for its history, which reflects in the considerable number of historical buildings and cultural heritage available for tourists to experience and learn about. UNESCO protects Bruges' city center as a World Heritage Site. Concerning recent history, Flemish Fields is part of the West-Vlaanderen territory, which, together with the city of Ypres, also known as the "City of Peace," pays tribute to lives lost during the First World War. Geographically, West Flanders features polders in its western and northern parts, while in the south is found the West Flemish Heuvelland, including the highest peak in the province, Kemmelberg. In the northwestern corner of the province is found the Zwin Nature Park, often visited for birdwatching opportunities, as well as walking or cycling.
The capital, the city of Bruges, is one of the predominant touristic destinations in the West Flanders province. Bruges historic city centre is designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The city's layout and architecture bear witness to its past as a prominent trade hub in Europe. Local street patterns, preserved second-defensive city ramparts, intricate canal networks, and the city's tangible heritage all contribute to this recognition. To this day, the city center not only has "many medieval buildings and monuments that withstood the test of time," but the locals also maintain its "intangible heritage" through traditional processions that are still part of daily life in Bruges. Additionally, Bruges is considered the birthplace of the Flemish primitives—"a group of painters who elevated Bruges’ status to that of an internationally renowned centre for art in the 15th century." Some of the city's highlights include the Beguinage, the Market Square, the Burg, the Museum of the Church of Our Lady, the Concertgebouw, the Minnewater, and the Gruuthusemuseum, to name a few.
Another attraction in the West-Vlaanderen province is Wynendale Castle, which is preserved and reportedly historically significant among Flemish castles. The history of the castle dates back to the 10th century when a wooden fortress was built in its place. Today, the castle is surrounded by a circular moat and bears a Gothic Revival style, as it was reconstructed in the second half of the 19th century. Wynendale Castle can be found between Bruges, Ostende, and Roeselare, situated in the Wijnendale hamlet, 3 km northwest of Torhout.
Flanders Fields is located in the western part of Belgium, or Flanders, near the North Sea and the northern region of France. The area holds historical significance as it was the battleground during the Great War. Yet, beyond various memorial sites that serve as reminders of the war, including monuments, cemeteries, trenches, craters, and museums. Flanders Fields provides opportunities for activities such as walking and cycling. The region is also known for its beer and wine experiences, as local specialties can be experienced in authentic pubs and restaurants.
West Flanders, the only Belgian province situated along the coast, features flat polders in the western and northern parts. The region is intersected by the Yser River, which flows into the North Sea at Nieuwpoort. In the south, there is the West Flemish Heuvelland, including the highest peak, Kemmelberg. The province is also crossed by the Leie River in the southeast. By surface, the West-Vlaanderen province is the "largest in the Flemish Region and the fifth largest in Belgium." While urban areas cover approximately 22.8% of the province, agricultural and horticultural areas dominate, lending a rural and open character, particularly in the Westhoek region. West Flanders lacks mineral deposits except for sand and clay, with the latter being used for the region's brick and tile industry.
The province exhibits a range of soil types, including sand, clay, sand/loam, and loam, allowing for the cultivation of various horticultural crops.
West Flanders features a diverse urban landscape, with Brugge, Kortrijk, and Ostende emerging as prominent cities, accompanied by several smaller population centers.
One of the local natural areas is Zwin Nature Park, found in the northwest corner of the province, on the shores of the North Sea. Zwin is home to a number of bird species, with over 350 different species having been observed there. Approximately 200 of those species can be spotted on an annual basis, and about 100 of them breed in the area. Some of the local breeding birds in the Zwin include the white stork, little egret, black-headed gull, Mediterranean gull, pied avocet, common ringed plover, Kentish plover, common tern, little tern, and Cetti's warbler, to name a few.
Regarding climate and weather in the West Flanders province's capital, Bruges, the warmest month is generally August, with an average daily temperature of 23°C. Reportedly, February is the coldest month, as temperatures have an average high of 6°C. April tends to be the driest month in Bruges because it generally receives 43 mm of rainfall on average. The most precipitation falls during December, as it gets an average of about 86 mm.
Early medieval habitation of the Bruges area began in the ninth and tenth centuries, and in 1089, the city became the capital of the County of Flanders. Throughout a considerable part of its history, West Flanders was part of the County of Flanders, a political entity within the medieval Low Countries. The prosperity of Flemish cities such as Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres played a significant role in making Flanders one of Europe's most affluent regions, which also helped promote international trade. In 1384, Flanders became part of the Burgundian Netherlands, leading to a relatively complex relationship with France. Following a series of historical events and treaties, the Holy Roman Empire gained control over most of the county in the 16th century.
During the French occupation, the County of Flanders was dissolved and divided into two French departments in 1795. The western portion became known as the Leie Department (département de la Lys). Following the Allied Liberation of 1815, this department transformed into the Dutch province of West Flanders. After Belgium's secession in 1830, it became the Belgian province with the same name. However, in 1962, due to establishing the language border, the area of West Flanders lost the municipalities of Komen and Mouscron, which are now part of Hainaut.
One considerable historical destination in the West-Vlaanderen province is the city of Ypres, featuring landmarks such as the Cloth Hall, Cathedral, and medieval Market Square. However, the city's prominence stems also from its association with the use of a military gas known as mustard gas (a combat chemical causing mucosal etching) during the First World War, earning it the title of the unofficial capital of Flanders Fields. Another name used for mustard gas is Yperite, derived from the name of Ypres City. Nowadays, the city, often referred to as the "City of Peace," pays tribute to the war events through daily commemorations and the tradition of the Last Post ceremony that takes place every evening, serving as a reminder of the sacrifices made by the soldiers who lost their lives in the war.
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