In the Middle Ages, Terneuzen was a transhipment harbour for goods being shipped via the Axelse Vaart to and from Ghent. In 1573 and 1574, the Sea Beggars set fire to the village and destroyed the locks. The Spaniards then decided to build a fortification which was known as Fort Aldano or “Spanish Castle”.
When Alexander Farnese, the later Duke of Parma, invaded northern Flanders in 1583 on the orders of the Spanish King, States troops led by Filips, Count von Hohenlohe rushed to take Terneuzen and Biervliet and thus create a bridgehead in Flanders.
Von Hohenlohe’s troops (most of whom were German mercenaries) landed near Terneuzen. They immediately built the Moffenschans and started building a bigger stronghold which was completed in 1598.
In April 1584, William of Orange granted city rights to Terneuzen. A month later, the town was besieged by the Spaniards. In July, heavy fighting followed. The States occupation proceeded to flood the surrounding lands and also launched an attack. The Spaniards suffered heavy losses and ended the siege.
In 1598, the stronghold Terneuzen consisted of an earthen rampart with seven bastions and three gates. Around the embankments there was a moat with counterscarp which was also a sea defence on the sea side.
After 1648, the fortifications were abandoned and only two gates remained. In 1680, it was decided to dismantle the stronghold. With the construction of the new canal to Ghent, parts of the old fortifications also disappeared.
The Belgian Separation in 1833 resulted in Terneuzen becoming a stronghold again. The town was a northern Netherlands bridgehead on the south bank of the Scheldt, from where it was easy to close the Scheldt and the canal to Ghent. The new stronghold consisted of four bastioned fronts with a total of nine bastions and two ravelins. The bastions were linked by embankments and the fortification was surrounded by a moat. There were two gates. The stronghold was completed in 1839. It was only in 1920 that the stronghold of Terneuzen was definitively abandoned. Nothing remains of the new stronghold today. Undulations in the centre are the only reminder of the former embankments and moats. Of the military buildings, only the Arsenal remained.
A large nineteenth century farmhouse on Axelsestraat currently bears the name Moffenschans.