Middelburg, the ancient capital of the province of Zeeland, has one great advantage that has helped ensure its safety in this water-dominated area: it is on the rise of a slight incline. The town was an important trading post in early times, beginning with cloth and French wine imports, followed by the presence of the Dutch East and West India companies during the 17th century. Today it is a bustling, friendly town that—despite
severe bombing during World War II—preserves many impressive monuments. Thanks to its excellent Abdij complex, visitors can enjoy all kinds of exhibitions, from displays on local history and a fossilized mammoth to a costume hall and a collection of contemporary art. All in all, Middelburg is a particularly fascinating Dutch city. The only way to enjoy it is to walk around, for hidden away in the old stronghold called the Binnenhof, or Inner Town, are many splendid examples of old architecture—note the Blauwpoort (Blue Gateway), the Kuiperspoort (Cooper's Gate), the Koepoort (Cow Gate), and Vismarkt (Fish Market) in a picturesque square—plus placid canals reflecting former glory. A testimony to Middelburg's past grandeur, the elaborately decorated Stadhuis (Town Hall), begun in 1452, stands resplendent on the market square, one of the great showpieces of southern-Dutch Gothic architecture.