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Five major agglomerations - Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Liege and Charleroi - account for more than 25% of the population. A further major concentration is the Hainaut industrial region, extending from Mons to Charleroi, and there are smaller urbanized areas around Vetviers, Bruges, Mechelen and Ostend. The coastal resorts have marked seasonal increases of population with the influx of tourists (mainly Belgians, Britons and Germans).
Many Belgian cities are of medieval origin, such as the market towns of Dinant, Namur, Huy and Liege along the Meuse, and Bruges, Ghent, Aalst (Alost), Brussels and Louvain along the route from Flanders to Cologne (Koln) in Germany. Some are still rich in ancient buildings and art treasures. Bruges is known for its 13th-century belfry and famous carillon; Ghent, for its cathedral of St Bavon and castle of the counts of Flanders. A contrast is provided by the towns of the Sambre-Meuse coalfield, much of whose architecture reveals their 19th-century industrial origins. In the countryside, the pattern varies. Scattered farmsteads are typical in maritime Flanders and the Famenne area in southern Belgium.
Villages in Hainaut and much of the Ardennes are usually compact huddles of houses, while the Flemish north is characterized by "street villages" straggling along the routeways.
Belgium's largest city is Brussels, the capital, which is rapidly expanding. It is the headquarters of NATO and the EEC. The second city is Antwerp is Belgium's chief seaport on the River Scheidt.
Ghent, at the confluence of the rivers Scheidt and Lys, is an industrial seaport by virtue of its ship canal to the West Scheidt at Terneuzen in the Netherlands. It is a leading textile center and has various other industries. It handles bulk cargoes such as coal, chemicals, ores, metals and liquid fuels.
Liege was founded as a medieval bishopric on the Meuse below its confluence with the Vesdre and Ourthe. Much of the modern town center was laid out on the reclaimed alluvial floodplain in the 18th and 19th centuries. The extensive industrial area upstream is confined by steep valley walls to the floodplain, little more than 800 meters wide in places.
The wider floodplain downstream, crossed by the Antwerp-Aachen highway, is the scene of more recent industrial development. Liege is a center of the iron and steel industry, metal and machinery manufacturing and armaments.
Belgium's Climate and Vegetation
Belgium has a maritime, west European climate in which the sea and air masses coming from the west are paramount influences. It is a country of cool winters and mild summers, without extremes of temperature or great variations in rainfall, although there is a noticeable difference between the cooler and wetter uplands of the Ardennes and the warmer and drier region of Flanders.
Temperatures in Uccle, near Brussels, average 3°C in January and 17°C in July.
At Bastogne in the Ardennes January averages 0°C and July 15°C. Uccle has an average rainfall of 831 mm compared with Bastogne's 1,000 mm.
Rainfall in the Ardennes reaches 1,400 mm annually in the higher parts of the Rocroi Massif and the Hautes Fagnes, but over much of Belgium the average is only 810 mm. Snowfall in the Ardennes permits a limited skiing season, based on the resort town of Spa. The sunshine of the Belgian coast has resulted in a chain of popular shore resorts between the French frontier town of De Panna (De Paone) and Knokke, some 5 km from the Dutch frontier. Little remains of the original vegetation. Most of the land has been cleared for agriculture, and even the woodlands of the Ardennes are more the work of man than of nature. The Ardennes, still the home of the wild boar, has Belgium's most extensive woodlands. The beech is the chief native tree, but oaks and hornbeams are common. In the Hautes Fagnes (High Heaths) of the Ardennes, marsh has developed in flat and poorly drained areas. But the peat, once a source of fuel, is now deep-plowed and afforested, generally with conifers.
Heaths and bogs occur in the Campine where the subsoil consists of sands and gravels. Some parts of Belgium have the remains of oak and beech forests, such as the Foret de Soignes on the southern outskirts of Brussels. The coastal dunes have protective vegetation such as marram grass, willows and conifers, partly natural and partly planted.