High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Finally, the “Flemish Canon” Has Been Launched
© City of Bruges
© City of Bruges © City of Bruges

Finally, the “Flemish Canon” Has Been Launched

More than 15 years after its Dutch counterpart, the ‘Canon of Flanders’ is a fact: a list of events, people and traditions that, according to the expert committee, define today’s Flanders. Here is a selection of the topics with background information from articles from our archive.

Following the example of the Canon of the Netherlands, Flanders presents its own historical canon. This canon consists of sixty chronologically ordered topics, called windows, with dates, people, traditions, books, objects and works of art that reveal the story of the historical and cultural development of Flanders.

Each window is divided into themes and focal points. The themes are central to the canon. In turn, the focal points draw attention to a striking phenomenon. In the case of the theme of the sexual revolution, for example, these are Catholic morality and the abortion issue.

The Canon starts about 12,000 years ago, just after the last ice age and includes the Celts on Kemmel Hill and the Gallo-Romans in Tongeren.

The committee chose not to include living persons. The most recent events in the list date back almost 20 years. The first gay marriage took place on 6 June 2003, the euro was introduced a year earlier.

We selected five topics from the Canon.

The Battle of the Golden Spurs

The Battle of the Golden Spurs was a military engagement on the outskirts of Kortrijk on 11 July 1302 in which an untrained Flemish infantry militia, consisting mainly of members of the craft guilds defeated a professional force of French and patrician Flemish cavalry, thus checking the growth of French control over the area.

Read about the impact of The Battle of the Golden Spurs.

The battle features twice in the Canon: as a historical fact and as the romantic version written by Hendrik Conscience in his 1838 novel The Lion of Flanders. In this tome the writer helped to lay the foundations for the Flemish emancipation movement with literature helping the movement establish itself firmly in the 19th century.

Read our portrait of Hendrik Conscience.

The Flemish movement and the language struggle

A 19th- and 20th-century nationalist movement of Flemish-speaking people has sought political and cultural equality with, or separation from, the less numerous but long-dominant French-speaking Walloons. The movement had its origins in the 1830s; it concentrated on the revival of the Flemish literary language.

By the 1850s the movement put forth such political demands as separate Flemish and Walloon army units, the introduction of Flemish in the administration and courts, and Flemish language instruction in schools and at the University of Ghent.

It was not until 1930 that a law was passed to turn Ghent University into a Dutch-language university, with August Vermeylen as its first rector.

The language struggles of the Flemings also feature in the Canon on these topics: World War I, the IJzer Tower – a symbol of the pursuit of Flemish autonomy - and the language border, established in 1962.

Read our article on the political expression of Flemish nationalism.

Jacques Brel


A notable presence in the Canon is Jacques Brel. In ‘Le plat pays’ Brusseler Brel sang of the Flemish landscape like no other. He called himself a Fleming, but one who spoke French.

Rock Werchter

Festival culture too typifies Flanders ever since the Chiro youth movement started the Rock Werchter Festival in 1975. The festival grew into one of Europe's biggest events with Flemish know-how in lighting, sound, stages and screens today used all over the world.

Read our article on the success of festivals in the Low Countries.

The Tour of Flanders

There is one sport that completes the Canon of Flanders: cycling. The cycling race ‘The Tour of Flanders’ has been known as Flanders' finest for 110 years. According to the expert committee, cycling is the only sport that is immediately known as "typically Flemish", even outside Flanders.

Read in this article why Flanders is mad about cycling.

Website Canon van Vlaanderen

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