The weather was absolutely superb and if anything it was a little too hot when we went to the Atlantic Wall museum (it's a long walk round so should have taken some water). But both Fort Napoleon and the Atlantic Wall attractions are easy to get to from the centre of Ostend and there is very good public transport to help you if you aren't driving.
First visit was to Fort Napoleon...
This Fortress is situated in the dunes east of Ostend's harbour and was built between 1810 and early 1814 by Napoleon as part of his plans for an invasion of England. Originally there were to be three identical forts but eventually only two were completed: the current Fort Napoleon and 'Fort Royal'.
After the Battle of Waterloo 'Fort Royal' was finished by the British and renamed Fort Wellington. It was located west of the city but unfortunately was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the horse racing track.
Getting to the fort from the town is easy and fun as you can take advantage of the free (yes free) ferry across the harbour to the east bank, then there is a pleasant walk through the old docks to the museum itself (it's well signed).
|View from Fort Napoleon back towards Ostend town. This gives you a|
fair idea about how far you have to walk to get to the fortress.
Do not think I am being negative. The whole point of Fort Napoleon is the preservation of the building and my wife and I enjoyed our visit immensely (there's a quite spectacular view of the coast from the roof). It's a wonderful example of fortifications of this period (as well as having relevance to the First World War and Second World War).
|The space between the outer and inner walls were designed as a 'killing|
ground' for any assaulting infantry. You can see the gun loops in the walls.
|View at the centre courtyard of the fort looking up to the roof.|
One of the more fascinating decoration in the building is the famous "Der Barbar" mural on the fireplace of the old 'officers' mess'. This was created during the WW1 phase of the fort's use when a large coastal gun battery was placed just behind the building (sadly this was later demolished).
Ostend was then in the hands of the Germans, as the long European trench line ended on it's western side at the coast. The 'Hun' officers used this room as a bit of a social club and it is said that this is where they 'entertained' local Belgian girls of questionable morals!
The mural is a piece of satire which makes fun of contemporary French propaganda about how the 'civilised' allies were engaged in a war against the 'barbarian' Germans. It depicts an armoured Teutonic knight astride the corpses of allied soldiers, his sword piercing the head of a Scottish Highlander! (I take it as a compliment that the Germans specifically singled out Scots for the worst of their vitriol!)
|The archeologists had to recover this wonderful mural from under|
layers of accumulated graffiti. It is faded but you still get a sense of
it's original gory jingoism.
Finally I should mention the excellent cafe which has been built into the side of the fort. Again, this might have British archeologists and academics shaking their heads, aghast at what they might see as 'vandalism', but I think it's an excellent idea to make historical sites attractive and accessible to ordinary people. It makes these site 'living' locations and not just piles of stones only of interest to a elite few.
Trip Advisor reviewers bemoans it's *comparatively* expensive menu you must realise that this is not meant to be one of those nasty school-dinner type cafeterias that are so common in British historical attractions.
Left: One of the intact inter-wall enclosed parapets.
This is a cafe in the French style and the food is what you might expect in a 3 Star restaurant in Britain. The clue is in the fact it has waiter service and in it's extensive and wonderful menu. If you want chips or a ham sandwich eat before you go - but the wife and I enjoyed our relaxed lunch and I didn't think it expensive!
I highly recommend visiting Fort Napoleon as it balances out your historical knowledge which is likely used to the idea of Britain being the nation that usually expects invasion!
|Somewhere over there is England! It's spooky to imagine that German|
soldiers looked out over this and across the channel British soldiers looked
back at them!