Damme - Encyclopedia

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DAMME, a decayed city of Belgium, 5 m. N.E. of Bruges, once among the most important commercial ports of Europe. It is situated on the canal from Bruges to Sluys (Ecluse), but in the middle ages a navigable channel or river called the Zwyn gave ships access to it from the North Sea. The great naval battle of Sluys, in which Edward III. destroyed the French fleet and secured the command of the channel, was fought in the year 1340 at the mouth of the Zwyn. About 1395 this channel began to show signs of silting up, and during the next hundred years the process proved rapid. In 1490 a treaty was signed at Damme between the people of Bruges and the archduke Maximilian, and very soon after this event the channel became completely closed up, and the foreign merchant gilds or "nations" left the place for Antwerp. This signified the death of the port and was indirectly fatal to Bruges as well. The marriage of Charles the Bold and Margaret of York, sister of Edward IV., was celebrated at Damme on the 2nd of July 1468. It will give some idea of the importance of the town to mention that it had its own maritime law, known as Droit maritime de Damme. The new ship canal from Zeebrugge will not revive the ancient port, as it follows a different route, leaving Damme and Ecluse quite untouched. Damme, although long neglected, preserves some remains of its former prosperity, thanks to its remoteness from the area of international strife in the Low Countries. The tower of Notre Dame, dating from 1180, is a landmark across the dunes, and the church behind it, although a shell, merits inspection. Out of a portion of the ancient markets a hotel-deville of modest dimensions has been constructed, and in the hospital of St Jean are a few pictures. Camille Lemonnier has given in one of his Causeries a striking picture of this faded scene of former greatness, now a solitude in which the few residents seem spectres rather than living figures.

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