Walraversijde, in the coastal dunes 6 km west of Ostend, is a medieval fishing village that has been excavated since 1992 under the direction of Marnix Pieters of the Free University of Brussels. A museum showing the results of the excavations, was opened in 2000. Walraversijde is perhaps the most studied fishing community in Europe.
The excavations have revealed two sites that were occupied in the area, one on the beach which flourished between 1200 and 1400, the other on a polder which was occupied in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The camp for Spanish cavalry occupied the site during the siege of Ostend in 1601-04 and it was not inhabited afterwards. In the mid-fifteenth century as many as 600 people lived at Walraversijde, working some 20 fishing vessels. They were then owned by sciplieden (boat captains) who lived in the village, but from the latter years of the century when larger vessels were needed to work on the Dogger Bank in the North Sea, rich merchants from elsewhere began to invest in fishing, and those who lived in Walraversijde subsequently worked for wages. Excavations have revealed spices, pomegranates, ivory combs, bronzes and luxury ceramics suggesting that villagers were involved in piracy and privateering as well as fishing.
Visitors can look over the excavations, observing the foundations of buildings that have not been reconstructed, which are illustrated by models of the villages. Thousands of medieval bricks discovered on site have been used in the reconstruction of three houses of different social levels restored as they would have been in the mid-fifteenth century, together with a building that served both as a bakery and a smoker. A visitor centre which displays nets, navigation equipment, smoker frames and other artefacts discovered on the site. Images by fifteenth century Flemish painters of fishing scenes at the time that Walraversijde was occupied are used in a multi-media presentation.