Situated some 25km east of Kortrijk, the attractive and gently old-fashioned town of OUDENAARDE, literally “old landing place”, hugs the banks of the River Scheldt as it twists its way north towards Ghent. The town has a long and chequered history. Granted a charter in 1193, it concentrated on cloth manufacture until the early fifteenth century, when its weavers cleverly switched to tapestry making, an industry that made its burghers rich and the town famous, with the best tapestries becoming the prized possessions of the kings of France and Spain. So far so good, but Oudenaarde became a key military objective during the religious and dynastic wars of the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, perhaps most famously in July 1708, when the Duke of Marlborough came to its rescue and won a spectacular victory here against the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. Attacked and besieged time and again, Oudenaarde found it impossible to sustain any growth, and the demise of the tapestry industry pauperized the town, rendering it an insignificant backwater in one of the poorest parts of Flanders. In the last few years, however, things have improved considerably due to its canny use of regional development funds, and today’s town – with its fascinating old buildings – makes an enjoyable and pleasant day out.
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