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The Scheldt (Dutch: Schelde, French Escaut, Latin Scaldis) is a 350 km[11244] long river in northern Francemarker, western Belgiummarker and the southwestern part of the Netherlandsmarker. Its name is derived from an adjective corresponding to Old English sceald "shallow", Modern English shoal, Low German schol, Frisian skol, and Swedish skäll "thin".


The headwaters of the Scheldt are in Gouy, in the Aisnemarker department of northern Francemarker. It flows north through Cambraimarker and Valenciennesmarker, and enters Belgiummarker near Tournaimarker. In Ghentmarker, where it receives the Lysmarker, its main tributary, the Scheldt turns east. Near Antwerpmarker, the largest city on its banks, the Scheldt flows west into the Netherlandsmarker towards the North Seamarker.

Originally there were two branches from that point: the Oosterscheldemarker (Eastern Scheldt) and the Westerscheldemarker (Western Scheldt) but in the 19th century the river was cut off from its eastern (actually: northern) branch by a dyke that connects Zuid-Bevelandmarker with the mainland (North Brabantmarker). Today the river therefore continues into the Westerschelde estuary only, passing Terneuzenmarker to reach the North Sea between Breskensmarker in Zeeuws-Vlaanderenmarker and Vlissingen marker on Walcherenmarker.

The Scheldt is an important waterway, and has been made navigable from its mouth up to Cambrai. The port of Antwerpmarker, the second largest in Europe, lies on its banks. Several canals (including the Albert Canalmarker) connect the Scheldt with the basins of the Rhinemarker, Meusemarker and Seinemarker, and with the industrial areas around Brusselsmarker, Liègemarker, Lillemarker, Dunkirkmarker and Monsmarker.

The Scheldt flows through the following departments of France, provinces of Belgium, provinces of the Netherlands and towns:
River Scheldt in Antwerp at sunset


Satellite image of the Scheldt delta

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, later named Francemarker and the Holy Roman Empire.

This status quo remained intact - at least on paper - until 1528, although by then both Flanders on the left bank and Zeeland and Brabant on the right were part of the Habsburg 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-Vlaanderenmarker, a strip of land on the left shore, and closed the Scheldt for shipping. This shifted the trade to the ports of Amsterdammarker and Middelburgmarker and seriously crippled Antwerp - an important and traumatic element in the history of relations between the Netherlands and what was to become Belgiummarker.

Access to the river was the subject of the brief 1784 'Kettle War', and — in the French Revolutionary era shortly afterwards — the river was reopened in 1792. Once Belgium had claimed its independence from the Netherlands in 1830 the treaty of the Scheldt determined that the river should remain accessible to ships headed for Belgian ports.

In World War II the estuary once again became a contested area. Despite allied control of Antwerp, in September 1944 German forces still occupied fortified positions throughout the Scheldt estuary west and north, preventing any allied shipping to the port. In the Battle of the Scheldt, the Canadian First Army successfully cleared the area, allowing supply convoys direct access to the port of Antwerpmarker by November 1944.

Tributaries and sub-tributaries


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