OSTEND, a seaport of Belgium, in the province of West Flanders, 70 miles west-north-west from Brussels, is surrounded on the north and west by the sea ; its site is an extensive plain, lying below high-water level, the town and surrounding country being protected by a sea-wall built of granite with a brick revetment, upon which the waves generally exhaust their force even in the roughest weather, though the town has occasionally been inundated through a combination of westerly gales and unusually high tides. The port is dangerous in unfavourable weather ; the channel leading into the two interior basins (which are calculated to hold more than a thousand vessels) is formed by two long wooden piers, and at its mouth has a width of only 165 yards. The rise of the tide in the harbour is about 15 feet, and as the bed of the sluice lies 3 feet under low-water mark, the depth at high water should amount to 13 feet ; but the entrance to the harbour is obstructed by sandbanks, which frequently shift their position under the influence of wind and tide, and leave a OSTEND free depth of only about 9 feet. At the north-west extremity of the sea-wall (digue de mer) is a lighthouse erected in 1771, and subsequently modernized, with a light visible at a distance of 45 miles. The town has an active trade in refined salt-, ropes, sails, soap, tobacco, lace, and wool. The imports greatly exceed the exports. In 1883 1345 vessels entered with 175,937 tons cargo, and 13-12 cleared with 32,010.
The large fishing population is chiefly occupied in the cod or herring fisheries ; the trade in -oysters is important, these being brought over in large quantities from the English coast, principally about Harwich or Colchester, and fattened in the Ostend oyster-beds. There are no manufacture, of any consequence ; and, unlike other Flemish cities, Ostend has no monument or building in any way worthy of notice. The town owes its repute and prosperity chiefly to its sea-beach, which is admirably adapted for bathing purposes, being composed of perfectly smooth sands, firm, level, and of great extent. Ostend is the yearly resort, from August to October, of many thousand visitors, comprising not only members of the fashionable society of Brussels and the larger provincial towns of Belgium, but also foreigners, principally Germans and Russians. During the season the digue and piers are crowded ; entertainments and festivities are offered to guests at the Kursaal, Casino, &c. ; a good deal of private and promiscuous gambling is carried on. The influx of bathers and pleasure-seekers has led to the development of some quieter resorts in the immediate vicinity, such as Blankerbergh (lately a mere fishing village), Heyst, Middelkerk, and others. In 1880 the population of the town was 16,823.
In the 10th century Ostend was but a cluster of fishermen's huts. In 1072 Robert I. of Flanders built a church there in honour of St Peter. The place thenceforth grew in importance, and the harbour became noted. Margaret of Constantinople, countess of Flanders, raised it to the rank of a city in 1267. In 1445 Philip the Good caused it to be walled round, but the prince of Orange was the first to fortify it in earnest (1583); and a short time afterwards it sustained a memorable siege, during the reign of Albert and Isabella, being invested on the 5th of July 1601, and taken by Spinola on the 14th of September 1604, after a resistance of more than three years. It was then in a state of almost absolute ruin, but was speedily rebuilt by the archduke, who granted the ckizens many privileges. The prosperity of Ostend, however, was constantly impeded by rivalries and dissensions. In the beginning of the 18th century it appeared in a fair way to attain commercial eminence, the emperor Charles VI. having selected it as the seat of the East Indian Company; but the interference of powerful neighbours, and principally of England and Holland, caused a stop to be put to this by the treaty of Vienna in 1732. Ostend Is-as taken by the French in 1794, and belonged to the republic until 1814, after which it formed part of the Netherlands, and subsequently, since 1830, of the kingdom of Belgium.