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‘t Eylandt den Doel (The island of Doel)

‘t Eylandt den Doel (The island of Doel)

This area was an island for a long time. The river brought good and bad winds along with it. The Scheldt clay smeared a fertile layer on the land. The impoldering brought wealth. Dykes were raised. The arrival of stately farmsteads turned the clay soil into golden sheaves of grain. In the 17th century, the village with its unique chessboard structure took shape. Despite floods, acts of war and harbour expansion plans, this heritage still stands. Damaged or not, cherish it.

Historic panoramic view of the roofs of Doel


This place was known in the 13th century as ‘the Doolen’. The word refers to ‘land reclaimed’ or ‘boundary water’ and is related to the word ‘valley’. Doel remained an island – ‘t Eylandt den Doel – in the midst of flooded land until the 18th century. Originally, the Western Scheldt was a small branch of the Scheldt called ‘the Honte’. The Scheldt flowed into the Oosterschelde. Medieval floods and dike breaches during the Eighty Years’ War swallowed up the surrounding low polder areas, except Doel.
‘t Eylandt den Doel was completely surrounded by old sea dykes One of the oldest dykes in Doel is Zoetenberm. Where there is now Prosperpolder, the Zeeschelde once sloshed against the ‘salt verge’. On the landward side the water was fresh. Hence the name ‘Zoetenberm’.
Doel and the surrounding polders form the most eastern outcrops of the coastal polders. These Scheldt polders are the last witnesses of a unique history of the landscape. Here, in an area of just a few square kilometres, you will find architectural and landscape heritage from the late Middle Ages to the present day. Dike structures, farms, stately barns and the accompanying dike houses where farm workers were housed give the region its unique character. The dike settlements Zoetenberm, Saftingen, Rapenburg and Ouden Doel have a unique wealth in terms of history, landscape and ecology.

Doel village

The Doel polder site acquired its typical checkerboard pattern during an interlude in the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) between the Spanish-Habsburg rulers and the Netherlands. Since its construction in 1614, no changes have been made to this layout. The village’s prominent houses face the main streets: the vicarage, the school, the town hall and the church. That makes the village a rare example of urban planning.
Yet Doeldorp has more to offer than its street pattern. The tidal harbour with an original nineteenth-century sluice gate now serves as a marina, but until the mid-twentieth century, it was a flourishing fishing port and the base of the quarantine service on the Scheldt. Boats entering Antwerp were checked here by quarantine doctors, and if infectious diseases broke out among the crew, the boats had to be chained up for forty days, hence the term ‘quarantine’. Doel had no fewer than four doctors and as many luxurious doctor’s homes. The former convent played a major role in caring for the sick.
The village has many historic buildings. The Scheldemolen (1614), with its location on the sea dyke, is a rarity in Flanders and the Netherlands. The mill, the Hooghuis (1643) and the nineteenth-century Vergaert organ in the church are protected monuments. The Inventory of Built Heritage includes 65 buildings. Doel has no high-rise buildings. The present church building has formed the skyline since 1852. Just outside the village the nuclear power plant has been supplying electricity to the whole country since 1970. The windmill and the cooling towers – traditional and high-tech power stations – stand fraternally next to each other.

Scheldt and natural heritage

Together with the Scheldt and the salt marshes, the polder is a European bird habitat area of importance. The Scheldt tidal marshes are protected as landscape. Doel is located where the drained fresh Scheldt water meets the inflowing salty seawater. Seals, wading birds and cows look each other in the eye here. The village and the polder are home to one of the largest populations of house and barn swallows in our country.
The Scheldt has always been a vital artery, not only for Antwerp. The Antwerp breweries were supplied with barley by skippers from Doel and Kieldrecht until far into the nineteenth century. The shipping company Flandria was created from this Scheldt trade in the 1920s. Doel was for a long time ‘the Blankenberge’ of the Antwerp bourgeoisie. Thousands of day-trippers still come to take a breath of fresh air on the dyke.

War Heritage

Doel has an eventful war history. Under the Doel windmill are the probable remains of a fort dating from the Eighty Years’ War. The forts of Lillo and Liefkenshoek face each other from across the Scheldt. In 1832 the Battle of Doel took place. After Belgian independence in 1830, French troops wanted to eliminate the remaining Dutch troops, but Fort Liefkenshoek remained in Dutch hands until 1839.
During World War I, the frontier village of Doel was the territory of smugglers. Time and again they found ways to slip past “the death wire”. This was a high-voltage fence between Belgium, which was occupied by the Germans, and the neutral Netherlands. In September 1944, at the end of World War II, the retreating German army managed, at the last minute, to put a full division across the Scheldt. To do so, all available boats in Doel were used. Afterwards, it was up to the British anti-aircraft defences to protect Antwerp from attacks with flying bombs (V1 and V2) from the Scheldt dike in Doel. The British monument on the Scheldt dike is a reminder of this.

Coat of arms

Doel and Kieldrecht had had the same coat of arms with a cog in the middle since 1632. The Doel town council asked for its own coat of arms in 1847 and received it in 1849, provided the letter ‘D’ was added. The Doel fleet also wore this ‘D’ as a mark on all its boats. Even today there is a diaspora of boats from Doel, decorated with a ‘D’, all over the Westerschelde.






Doel and Doelpolder have survived all floods and war disasters. Since the 1960s the expansion of the Antwerp port has posed a new threat. Most of the inhabitants were chased away and many buildings including important heritage sites were demolished: the stately Napoleonic Camerman House, the 17th century ‘Afspanning de Roos’ and the 18th century Rubenshoeve.
The Erfgoedgemeenschap Doel & Polder (Doel & Polder Heritage Community) strives to bring new life to Doel’s heritage, with respect for the past, the initial inhabitants and the current residents. Because heritage is a human right. KOESTERDOEL is a tribute to the work and the suffering of all generations of Doel residents and Doel lovers.