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Damme Canal: The Canal That Napoleon Built To Avoid The British Navy

A popular way to see the beautiful city of Bruges in Belgium is from a boat cruising along the city’s many canals. The historic city center is conveniently enclosed within an ‘egg’ encircled by canals allowing tourists to take a boat ride around the city center admiring the charming historic houses and churches. The city’s canals themselves are worth seeing, particularly the tree-lined Bruges-Sluis Canal or the Damme Canal.

The canal is about 15 km long and connects Bruges to the Dutch border town of Sluis through the town of Damme. It was dug on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte, and hence it is also called Napoleon Vaart, or Napoleon Canal.

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Panoramic view of the famous Damme Canal. Photo credit: canadastock/Shutterstock.com

Napoleon’s intention was to dig a series of canals along the coast to allow the French army to move around faster and transport supplies much more rapidly while avoiding confrontation with the stronger British navy. Doing this by sea proved impossible because of the English naval force. The canal was supposed to connect Bruges to the Scheldt estuary in the Netherlands, but that was never accomplished because of Napoleon's defeat in the Battle of Waterloo.

Shortly after, King William I gave the order to finish the Bruges-Sluis canal, but it wasn’t completed until the 1850s. At Damme the canal crosses the Leopold Canal and the Schipdonk Canal, both of which were dug in the middle years of the nineteenth century in order to reduce the vulnerability of the Belgian canal network to Dutch interference, after the achievement in 1830 of Belgian independence. The canal was used until 1940 when French troops destroyed the canal’s siphon system putting an end to maritime transport on the Damme Canal.

Today, the canal is lined on both sides by evenly spaced poplar trees and is arguable the most beautiful canal in Flanders.

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Photo credit: Eric Huybrechts/Flickr

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Photo credit: Alain Rouiller/Flickr

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