The city of Middelburg dates back possibly to the late 8th century or early 9th century. The first mention of Middelburg was as one of three fortified towns (borgs) erected on Walcheren (then an island) to guard against Viking raids. In 844 a monastery was built on the site, which remained an active Catholic foundation until the Reformation. Foundations for Middelburg's "stately and picturesque" cathedral (one of only two pre-Reformation cathedrals in The Netherlands, along with St. Martin's in Utrecht) were first laid in the 10th century; additional construction continued through the Middle Ages.
Middelburg was granted city rights in 1217. During the Middle Ages, it became an important trading centre in the commerce between England and the rising cities of Flanders. The town continued to gain in power and prestige during the 13th and 14th centuries.
From 1559.05.12 to 1603, Middelburg was the episcopal see of a Catholic bishopric covering all Zeeland. In the Eighty Years' War, Middelburg was captured from the Spanish forces during a long siege. The northern provinces of the original Low Countries won their independence from their former Spanish Habsburg rulers and formed The Netherlands, a Protestant state. Later, in the 17th century (the Dutch Golden Age), Middelburg became, after Holland's metropolis Amsterdam, the most important center for the East India Company of Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (VOC) or Dutch East India Company.
Middelburg played an important role in the 17th century slave trade.
Samuel Ben Israel, son of Menasseh Ben Israel, is buried in Middelburg at the Sephardic burial site located at the 'Jodengang' outside the citywall. Menasseh Ben Israel negotiated with Cromwell the opening of England, and their colonies, to the Jews. Middelburg also has an Ashkenazic burial site, which is located at the Walensingel inside the city wall. In 1994 the synagogue was restored, as it was partially destroyed during the Second World War. This synagogue was the third one to be built in the Netherlands during the Golden Age. In the hall of the railway station there is a plaque of remembrance for the Jews of Zeeland who started their journey to the death camps from the Middelburg train station.
About a third of the old city centre was devastated by bombs and fire in the early phases of World War II, on May 17, 1940, it is still not sure whether it were German bombers or French artillery. The town was captured and liberated by British troops during Operation Infatuate on 5 November 1944. After the War, as much of the destroyed part of the old town center was rebuilt and restored along pre-War lines as possible. The city's archives, however, had been incinerated during the German bombardment.
Modern Middelburg has preserved and regained much of its historic and picturesque character. There are lavish 17th and 18th century merchant houses and storehouses standing along canals, of a similar style as found in cities like Amsterdam. The old city moats are still there, as are two of the city gates, the Koepoort Gate and the varkenspoort Gate. Part of the 18th century moat and defence works, however, were demolished in the 19th century to make way for a commercial canal that crosses Walcheren from Vlissingen to Veere. The medieval abbey is still in use today, as a museum and as the seat of the provincial government.
The painter Pieter Gaal, (1769–1819) was born and, after traveling over Europe to paint, settled and died here.
Another well-known citizen of Middelburg was the admiral and explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who was born in the city in 1659 and died there in 1729. Roggeveen discovered Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in the South Pacific Ocean on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1722. Further discoveries on the same journey included islands of the Tuamotu group, now part of French Polynesia.
Aside from the city of Middelburg, the municipality also includes several population centres, including: Arnemuiden, Kleverskerke, Nieuw- en Sint Joosland and Sint Laurens.
The climate is a maritime climate (Cfb) with mild winters and cool summers. Rain falls throughout the year, reaching its height at the end of the summer and in the autumn; spring tends to be somewhat drier. The climate has warmed since 1988; winters are even milder than they used to be and are extremely mild for the high latitude (51,5 degrees). Winters are dark and days are short, with the sun only appearing above the horizon for seven to eight hours a day. Mild winters tend to be particularly gloomy, with barely any sun and lots of wind and rain. Cold winters tend to be snowy and freezing but also sunny, with people skating on the canals near the city.
Rainfall is pretty even throughout the year; about 810 mm (32 in) of precipitation falls in an average year (1981-2010, source KNMI). This has risen steeply in recent years, but has been on the rise since at least 1900. Global warming has had a regional effect on the nearby North Sea, which has become 2 °C (4 °F) warmer in the past 50 years. Thus coastal regions are experiencing a steeper rise in rainfall than areas in the east of the country. Middelburg is no exception.
The climate is good for agriculture. Grain, sugar beets, potatoes, corn, and grassland for horses and cows are the most common sight. Apple and pear trees are also cultivated. The city contains all sorts of broad-leafed and coniferous species, which do well in the cool climate. Near the abbey complex there a couple of beautiful red beeches. Some large conifers can be found in the city centre as well (Norway spruce, Taxus and Dawn redwood). Spruces in particular tend to get too big for gardens and are cut down after a few years. At Ter Hooge, a castle to the west of the city, there is a small beech forest with some oak and some specimen trees of Norway and Serbian spruce, Sequoia sempervirens (redwood), Caucasian fir, and larch trees.
In detail there is a marked difference between Vlissingen (KNMI data) and Middelburg, especially in warm summers and even more in cold winters or during colder spells. Especially minimum temperatures year round tend to be much lower than in Vlissingen (Flushing). The minima in Middelburg are much closer to stations 200 km to the North East than Vlissingen, 8 km to the southwest. This is because of the city being 8 km inland while Vlissingen KNMI is only 10 m from the shore.
The KNMI station from Vlissingen was placed from the current, shore position to 3 km inland (just south of Middelburg) from 1948 to 1957. To the surprise of the meteorologist, temperatures were much lower, to such an extent that there could be no correction calculated for it. On occasion, these differences can amount 10 °C, especially during clear summer nights after hot, dry days.
The cold record was easily broken in that short period and went from −16 to −20 °C (3 to −4 °F) in 1956. To give an indication about how remarkable this was, the chief of the KNMI station did not believe this value and checked the thermometer himself again. In later years, calibrated measurements just 2 kilometers northeast of Middelburg have shown that these differences are common. Temperature differences of 7 to 10 °C (45 to 50 °F) have been recorded frequently, especially in calm summer nights and snow-covered bright winter nights. Tropical nights (minimum temperatures above 20.0 °C (68.0 °F)) have never been measured near Middelburg in the last 15 years, they were not infrequent in Vlissingen. Also temperatures have dropped near the record values after 1956 near Middelburg, but never dipped below −12 °C (10 °F) in Vlissingen. Another example is the record low for August in Vlissingen. This is about 9 to 10 °C (48 to 50 °F) over the last 40 years.
The reasons for these differences are the distance to the sea, low-lying areas cooling and warming easily, less wind and longer and deeper snowcovers in winter, with snow remaining fresher because of no thaw, making it more radiative. This difference is not confined to Vlissingen, also Wilhelminadorp KNMI 20 km east of Middelburg tends to record (much) higher temperatures in clear nights with a snowcover, while summernights are similar. For example, in 2012 Middelburg noted −17.2 °C (1.0 °F) and 6 days with a minimum between −10 °C (14 °F) and −15 °C (5 °F) and an average of −9.5 °C (14.9 °F) over the first ten days. Vlissingen and Wilhelminadorp never went below −11 °C (12 °F) and this was the only day with a temperature below −10 °C (14 °F) there. Moreover, the average on those stations was 2 to 4 °C (3.6 to 7.2 °F) higher than Middelburg Northeast.
Another thing that also can be seen on KNMI charts is that snow cover is bigger and last a lot longer in Middelburg than the coast especially, but also to all other parts of the province. The explanation, at least since 2002, is that lake effect snow showers do reach the city, but the mild air frequently does not. In those situations, amateur stations directly on the coast note temperatures well above freezing and even rain while in Middelburg the mercury remains just or well below zero with snowfall. Just a couple of kilometers more inland the snowshowers break up and no snowfall is recorded. In this way, Middelburg seems to be in just the right (or wrong) position. An example is the period 27 November 2010 to 30 December 2010 in which Middelburg had 26 days with snow cover, Wilhelminadorp 18, and Vlissingen 17 days (KNMI data). The cumulative snow cover in Middelburg was between 161 cm and 223 cm (two KNMI stations) while coastal stations (Westkapelle) reached 84 cm over that period.
The biggest snow cover in recent years was 20–27 cm in February 2003 and December 2010 and the highest ever may have been no more than 35 cm or so in 1957 or 1958. Snow cover measurements tend to be difficult because many times they coincide with a lot of wind, piling snow up to dunes of a meter or so in one place with bare soil next to it.
In summer, temperature differences are big at night but less so at day. In general though, in warm conditions Middelburg is warmer than the coast and sea breezes have an effect but not as big as on the coast. In general a sharp rise is cut off, in spring a clear fall in temperature is more common. In summer most of the time the temperature rise stops in the (late) afternoon.
Again, compared to climate charts of Vlissingen we will rarely see a big difference. That is because of a peculiarity: the seabreeze comes from the north. This means that Vlissingen can remain 5 to 7 °C (41 to 45 °F) cooler all day with an east or southeast wind. Meanwhile, much warmer air is situated to the north of the city (Middelburg). The incoming northerly sea breeze first pushes the hot air over Vlissingen giving a short sharp rise in temperature followed by a subsequent fall afterwards. Also; the KNMI station is situated with the city surround it to the north, giving the mercury a slight extra push when the sea breezes kicks in. In the average maximum the duration of the maximum is not noted, the difference is there anyway. Highest temperatures recorded in recent years in Middelburg (countryside) is 36.1 °C (97.0 °F) in 2003 and 36.6 °C (98 °F) in 2006. In most years, the absolute maximum is mostly 32 °C (90 °F) or 33 °C (91 °F) on no more than a couple of days.
Note that these are details and the climate of Zeeland and the whole Netherlands and even the whole continental North Sea area is very even because of the lack of mountains and proximity to the sea in combination with a dominant westerly flow.
Other exceptional weather events can be the occasional supercell thunderstorm (may be one or two per year) which rarely produce tornadoes. In recent history only one tornado event (August 1994) went just southwest of the city leaving a trail of damage from Ritthem to Kapelle in which cars were picked up by the funnel and severely damaged. Waterspouts are pretty frequent along the coast but they never reach Middelburg and only very big ones can partially be seen from the outskirts in the west of the city every once in a while.
Somewhat frequent events are noctilucent clouds near the pinnacle of summer, which can only be seen outside of the city. These are ice clouds which are situated much above normal cloud layers at 80 km or so. They have a neon-blue like, beautiful appearance. Another astronomical phenomenon is the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). These in fact occur every year on a few days, but rarely are spectacular. Once in every 10–12 years, the auroral oval can be pushed even south of the city and a corona can be seen. The cloudy climate prevents sightings on many occasions, so spectacular displays as said are pretty year and tend to focus near sunspot maxima on the sun.
When William of Orange decided to found the first university in the Netherlands in 1575, he initially considered locating it in Middelburg. Ultimately he chose Leiden, however, and Middelburg—as well as all of Zeeland—remained without a university until 2004 when University College Roosevelt (formerly known as Roosevelt Academy), affiliated with Utrecht University, was established.
Middelburg has a field hockey club, MMHC, a rugby club, Oemoemenoe, and four football (soccer) clubs: MZVC, Zeelandia Middelburg, Jong Ambon and FC Dauwendaele. Jong Ambon is translated Young Ambon, and consists of mostly Ambonese players. FC Dauwendaele is the main club in Dauwendaele.
Middelburg has a railway station with intercity train connections to Vlissingen, Goes, Roosendaal, Rotterdam, The Hague, Leiden, Schiphol International Airport, Amsterdam, and Almere, among others. Two trains leave every hour in both directions.