In Flanders, Ghent, the second largest port of Belgium, is heavily laden with memories. Throughout the past, Ghent's fate has always swayed between revolt and revenge. Its topographical layout, the shape of its buildings give testimony of a bloody history. The churches, castles, and belfry are all grouped together in a profusion that gives an extremely dramatic effect of sturdiness and even of gloom. Although the city and its suburbs are a flower-gowing center where tulips, hyacinths, azaleas, and orchids abound, the living quarters of the textile workers offer a rather discouraging contrast of drabness. Of all the Belgian cities, Ghent is by far the most tormented, physically and mentally. It is not by pure accident that it was the birthplace of the two greatest Belgian authors since 1830--the French-writing Maurice Maeterlinck, and the equally great Flemish poet, Karel van de Woestijne.
The other towns of Belgium are definitely provincial--Mechlin (Mechelen), the ecclesiastical capital of Belgium; Louvain (Leuven), the Catholic scholastic center; Bruges, perfect in quaint medieval charm; Tournai, the oldest town in the land; Namur, Mons Bergen), Lier, and scores of others. Nearly all have had their period of power and great prosperity. Their public buildings clearly affirm a desire for greatness which is still an inspiration to their people.
Whereas for many centuries the textile industry has been a predominant influence in the prosperity of Flanders, modern heavy industry developed in the Walloon part of the country because of the availability in that region of the only raw material Belgium possesses--coal.
From 1841 to 1939 emigration withdrew no more than 1 to 3 persons per 1,000. The majority of those who left the country were Flemings; in fact, the proportion was 2 to 1 over the Walloons. The largest group of Belgians who left their home country for good have settled in the United States and in Canada.