Vlissingen is situated on the peninsula of Walcheren, to the south of Middelburg on the Westerschelde. The town of Vlissingen was home to 45,229 inhabitants on January 1st 2004 and contains West-Souburg, East-Souburg and Ritthem. Vlissingen is the third largest town of Zeeland with regards to the population size.
The location of Vlissingen on the Westerschelde played a great influence to its formation. Vlissingen has always been a seaport and an industrial town. Further inland lies the port of Antwerp. Vlissingen also lies at the end of the only railway line in Zeeland and at one end of the Walcheren Canal. Before the Westerschelde tunnel was opened in 2003, there was a ferry line from Vlissingen to Breskens, on the other side of the Westerschelde. There also used to be a ferry service from Vlissingen to Sheerness (England). Nowadays you can still find a fishing port, a Royal Marine base, and a station for the Dutch and
Belgian pilot services. The maritime influence can also be seen in the curricular courses in town. The Zeeland High School (Hogeschool Zeeland) has a Technical and Maritime Faculty named after Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter, a local naval hero who lived between 1607 and 1676. His statue is located on the town’s promenade. The beaches around Vlissingen attract a lot of domestic and foreign tourists throughout the summer.
During the Second World War, Vlissingen was struck very hard by German bombings. Many historical buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. When the war was over, the town centre had to be cleaned up. The Gevangenpoort, a round tower of the sixteenth century, is the only remnant of the defensive works along the promenade. Many of the prominent buildings date back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The former Stock Exchange dates back to 1635, the gate of the Cornelia Quack’s Hofje, 1643, and the round stone Oranjemolen situated on a bulwark on the Scheldt dates back to 1699. The St. Jacobs church was rebuilt in a late gothic style but has a tower dating from the fourteenth century. In Ritthem you can find a reformed church with a nave from the fourteenth century tower, a nave from the sixteenth century and a pulpit from the seventeenth century! East of Ritthem lies Fort Rammekens, built halfway through the sixteenth century in order to control the access of ships to Middelburg. A few decades later it served as a bulwark for the Sea Beggars against the Spanish troops of Philip II. Today the area is a nature reserve run by the Forestry Commission (Staatsbosbeheer). The creeks, created by allied bombings in 1944, are home to many interesting plants and animals.