ScheldtThe Scheldt (Dutch: Schelde, French l'Escaut) is a river that finds its origin in the north of France, enters Belgium and near Antwerp flows west into the Netherlands towards the North Sea.
Originally there were two branches from that point: the Oosterschelde (Eastern Scheldt) and the Westerschelde (Western Scheldt) but the river was cut off from its eastern (actually: northern) branch by a dike that connects Zuid-Beveland with the mainland (North Brabant). Today the river therefore continues into the Westerschelde estuary only, passing Terneuzen to reach the North Sea between Cadzand in Zeeuws Vlaanderen and Vlissingen on Walcheren.
The Scheldt estuary has always had considerable commercial and strategic importance. In Roman days it was important for the shipping lanes to Britannia. The Franks took control over the region around 260 and at first interfered with the Roman supply routes as pirates. Later they became allies of the Romans. With the various divisions of the Frankish Empire in the 9th century, the Scheldt eventually became the border between the west and the east Empire.
This situation remained -- at least on paper -- till 1528, although by then both Flanders on the left bank and Zeeland and Brabant on the right were part of the Hapsburg possessions of the Seventeen Provinces. Antwerp was the most prominent harbor of Western Europe. After this city fell back under Spanish control in 1585 the Dutch Republic took control of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, a strip of land on the left shore and closed the Scheldt for shipping. This shifted the trade to Amsterdam.
After the Napoleonic era the river was reopened and once Belgium had claimed its independence the treaty of the Scheldt determined that the river should remain accessible to ships headed for Belgian ports.
In WWII the estuary once again became a contested area. The Allies had gained control of Zeeuws Vlaanderen in 1944 (liberated by Canadian and Polish forces), but they could not use the port of Antwerp until the dikes of the island of Walcheren had been bombed and the island was flooded.