Fort Napoleon, lies on the east side of the city of Ostend, in the province of West Flanders in the Flemish region in Belgium.
In the early 19th century the Southern Netherlands, comprising present-day Belgium, were occupied by the French under Napoleon Bonaparte. He visited Ostend several times and ordered the building of the fort, then called Fort Impérial. It was meant to protect the harbor city of Ostend from an expected attack by English forces.
It was built between 1811 and 1814 in the dunes east of the city as a pentagonal shaped fort with a scarp and a counterscarp defended by caponiers. Originally the sand of the dunes would have covered the counterscarp up until the top on all sides, so only the fort and the moat would have been visible. It was armed with 36 cannons and 10 mortars and manned by 141 soldiers.
In 1815 the French under Napoleon Bonaparte were defeated and withdrew from the Southern Netherlands. The fort was then taken over by the English and renamed Fort William. It was incorporated into the Wellington Line. The military importance of the fort quickly dwindled as there was no more expactation of an enemy coming from the sea.
After Belgium had become independant in 1830 the fort, then renamed Fort Napoleon, was again garrisoned, this time by Belgian soldiers. The garrison of the fort was reduced several times until it was manned by only 2 soldiers. The fort also had fallen prey to thefts and vandalism. In 1847 the Wellington Line was abolished but the fort remained military property.
In 1870 it was used to detain some 100 French soldiers who had fled to neutral Belgium after the Battle of Sedan. After that Fort Napoleon completely lost its military importance and finally was decommissioned in 1887, everything was removed and its entrance sealed.
During World War I the fort was taken into use by German forces. They used it as a headquarter of a nearby artillery battery. It was even visited by the German Emperor Wilhelm II and later by Paul von Hindenburg. After the Germans left in 1918 the fort was looted and destroyed by the people of Ostend. Fort Napoleon remained a ruin.
Between 1929 and 1932 Fort Napoleon was again restored and turned into a local history museum. During World War II the fort was again taken into use by German forces. After the liberation the fort was again looted and destroyed by the locals. After that it was shortly used as a military magazine and even a children’s playground. The end came in 1956; the fort was emptied, its entrances sealed off and given over to nature. It slowly disappeared under the dunes.
In 1995 there was renewed interest in Fort Napoleon. It was restored until 2012 and turned into a museum.
At present Fort Napoleon can be visited for a fee. It was interesting to see its interior but it was a bit too much aimed at children, in my opinion.