In 1448 Pieter Bladelin, treasurer of the Dukes of Burgundy (Filips the Good and Charles the Bad) and treasurer of the Order of the Golden Fleece, started building the town of Middelburg as a private project. The newly founded town was situated near the (Roman) road running between Bruges to Aardenburg, close to the cities of Bruges, Damme and Sluis. As a high functionary at the Court, Bladelin was uniquely given the permission to complete this personal project.
The aim of this ex nihilo foundation was not only economic success but also the de facto confirmation of his newly achieved status as a nobleman. The site was constructed with a ridgedly organized town plan in mind and consisted of walls, ramparts, a church, a city hall, a hospital, several houses and an impressive castle that dominates the town.
The town flourished between 1450 and 1490 under the rule of Bladelin and later Hugonet, the chancellor of Burgundy.
In the period between 1580 and 1700, the situation changed dramatically. After being an example of extreme elite power, it became an almost-forgotten town in the fort line of international (religious) conflicts which led to its abandonment.
These important changes in the turbulent history of the city are known from written evidence and have been demonstrated by several archaeological excavations on the sites of the city hall, the fortifications and the castle. The castle was excavated in three rescue campaigns before being built over. These excavations formed the start of a multidisciplinary research project which focuses on the study and preservation of this unique site in Flanders. The communication of the results to a broader public and collaboration with the town of Maldegem has resulted in a visitors centre, an archaeological walking trail and an informative DVD. Thanks to the increased public awareness as to the site’s significance and future potential, it has been protected as a designated ‘Flemish Archaeological Monument’.
Ongoing research at Middelburg is conducted in collaboration with colleagues of the departments of History and Art History (UGent), the Flemish Heritage Institute and the town of Maldegem.