Bergen op Zoom's location on the Scheldt River was an important factor in this city's development into a wealthy trading city during the Middle Ages. Traders from all over Europe flocked to Bergen op Zoom twice a year for the Easter and the Cold Markets. The brisk trade led to the building of Het Markiezenhof and the expansion of the Sint Gertrudiskerk church.
In 1567, the city changed radically as a result of major military activities and siege. The defences that were built during this period survived the Eighty Years War with Spain. The Bergen city anthem 'Merck toch hoe sterck', loosely translated as 'see how strong we are', harks back to these tumultuous times. The harbour was an important artery which brought troops and supplies into the city. In 1698, a radical modernisation of the defences, designed by the renowned Dutch fortress builder Menno van Coehoorn, was started.
As his building work was seen as impregnable, Bergen op Zoom was given the nickname 'La Pucelle', the virgin. At the end of the 19th century, most of the fortifications were destroyed during the expansion of the city. Large industries arose around the harbour, but the inner city has retained its historical character. The historical buildings in the centre create a unique backdrop for the attractive shops, cafés and pleasant restaurants.