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Eeklo (Municipality, Province of East Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2007-11-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: eeklo | oak |
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[Flag of Eeklo]

Municipal flag of Eeklo - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 7 November 2006

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Presentation of Eeklo

The municipality of Eeklo (19,645 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 3,005 ha) is the capital of the rural region of Meetjesland. located in north-western Flanders.
The name of Eeklo dates back to the early Middle Ages (maybe the VIIth century) and is formed of two Germanic roots, eke, "an oak" (in Dutch, eik) and lo, "an area sparsely planted with shrubs and trees". In the past, such a place planted with oaks was particularly significant because it was located in the middle of a sandy area.

The early history of Eeklo is not known, but the place was probably located on a Roman way linking Antwerp to the coast of the North Sea. The town was granted municipal rights by Countess of Flanders Johanna of Constantinople in 1240; the whole area around Eeklo was the personal property of the Counts of Flanders, who had there a hunting estate. The development of the sandy and marshy areas surrounding the town was made possible by big farms set up by the religious orders. In the Middle Ages, Eeklo belonged to the Brugse Vrije, a big lordship with Bruges as its capital, which might explain the specificity of the local dialect, quite different from the other Western Flemish dialects. The town had also trade relationships with Ghent and the development of cloth production increased its wealth.
During the Religious Wars of the XVIth century, Eeklo was on the frontline between the Protestants, in the north, and the Catholics, in the south, and was often sacked. The town was even abandoned for a while, which explains why there are so few remains of the Middle Ages there. The legend of the herbakkers (see below) also dates from that period.
After the restoration of peace, cloth production blossomed again in Eeklo; the production was industrialized in the XIXth century, and Eeklo was upgraded as the administrative and religious capital of the Meetjesland after the independence of Belgium (1830). The wealthy neo-gothic houses and the rows of weavers' houses characteristic of Eeklo date back to that period.

The inhabitants of Eeklo are nicknamed herbakkers, "those who bake again", after a medieval legend. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that old or misfit people could be restored by drinking an elixir of life, bathing in a fountain of youth or being baked again in an oven. For the "baking again", the head should be carefully cut from the trunk, kneaded, glazed and placed into the oven. In the meantime, a green cabbage was placed over the trunk, symbolically "replacing" the head. After the baking, the revamped head was replaced on the trunk and the patient was again young and fit. In the Muidersolt of Muiden (Amsterdam), a painting from the second half of the XVIth century depicts the herbakking process; the painting is entitled De backer van Eelco, Eelco being probably a faultive rendition of Eeclo. A poem by Adriaan Poirtiers, dated 1646, also describes the head's rebaking.
Eeklo has been known in Flanders for centuries as "the re-bakers' town" (Herbakkersstad) thanks to a tale related in the popular book De Vermaekelijke klugt, published in 1750. The tale portrays a desperate father, who dripped his stupid son near Zottegem in the Minnawater in order to make him smarter, to no avail. A lawyer advized him to go to Eeklo: "there heads will be baked again with curvy or straight hair, with sharp, squinting, sleepy or vivid eyes, black and other you can find again desire and savor. No sooner said than done. Afterwards the son went to Paris, where he stood out in his studies by his science and knowledge."
Every year, deserving citizens of Eeklo are dubbed knights of the Orde van de Eeklooschen Herbacker; the Herbakker festival is organized every five years, during which everybody can be baked again.

Eeklo is the birth place of Karel Lodewijk Ledeganck (1805-1847), the most famous Flemish Romantic poet. He fought against the domination of the French language in Flanders and created a new Dutch poetic language. Ledeganck won in 1834 the national poetry contest. His poetic trilogy De drie zustersteden (The three sister towns - Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp) was enthousiastically welcomed in Flanders.
The cyclist Roger De Vlaeminck was born in Eeklo in 1947. Daniel Marszalek rankes him the 10th best cyclist ever. De Vlaeminck was nicknamed Monsieur Paris-Roubaix, after having ran 14 times the Northern Hell's race, with four wins (1972, 1974, 1975 and 1977). He also won six times Tirreno-Adriatico from 1972 to 1977, the Tour of Flanders (1977), the Tour of Lombardy (1974 and 1976), Milan-San Remo (1973, 1978 and 1979) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (1970).
Other celebrities in Eeklo are the market singer Lionel Bauwens (1892-1974), better known as Tamboer (Drum); the actress and singer Ivona Van Acker (b. 1908), better known as Vonne; and the journalist August Van Acker (1827-1902), founder in 1848 of the De Eecloonaar, the oldest weekly newspaper still published in Belgium.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 7 November 2006

Municipal flag of Eeklo

The municipal flag of Eeklo is vertically divided green and white with two oak branches countercoloured.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 15 May 1981, confirmed by Royal Decree on 2 February 1982 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 21 April 1982 and, again, on 4 January 1995.
The colours of the flag and the oak branches come from the border of the municipal arms. The municipality used in the past a vertically divided green-white flag.

The official description of the symbols can be found on the municipal website:
Flag: Twee even lange banen van groen en van wit met op het midden twee eikentakken, ovaalsgewijze geplaatst, van het een in het ander.
Arms: In zilver een hartschild van goud, beladen met een leeuw van sabel, geklauwd en getongd van keel; het hartschild omkranst door twee eikentakken van sinopel (Argent a shield or a lion sable armed and langued gules; the shield bordered by two oak branches vert).
According to Servais, these arms were originally granted by Royal Decree on 29 August 1842; they were confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 16 February 1993.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 7 November 2006