Painting by the Flemish painter David Teniers the Younger (17th century)

It seems that the old Flemish games of bowls date from the middle ages. The municipal library of Cambrai in Belgium possesses a breviary that dates from the 13th century, with a picture of two figures playing bowls. One is preparing to throw the other one is standing behind the jack (a fixed small stake or pole in the ground) and advising his partner how to play. There is another manuscript, dating from the beginning of the 14th century, also with a picture of four people playing a game of bowls.

The pointer (Jac Verheul)

It is very remarkable that, at the beginning of the 21st century and after more than seven hundred years, there are still several places in Flanders, Belgium, where the old games of bowls are still played.

The most remarkable resemblance between all kind of Flemish games of bowls is the shape of the bowls: they all are rather flat as compared with the diameter. They look like Dutch cheesesÉ The thickness varies between about 3 and 10 cm, the diameter between about 10 and 25 cm, depending of the type of game. The weight varies between about 1000 and 4000 grams. The jack is always an immobile stake in the ground. The size varies according to the type of the game, but can have a length of about 30 or 40 cm and a thickness of about 8 cm.

Painting by the Flemish painter David Teniers the Younger (17th century)

The dimensions of the court, so-called 'tra' in Dutch, depend on the type of the game. The most common game, krulbol or curled bowl, is practised on lanes that vary between a width between 2 and 4 m and a length between 7 and 8.5 m. On both sides of the tra there are stakes. The teams play from the one side to the other and vice-versa. All players throw their bowls, in contradiction to the most French games, overhand.

The bowls and the stake (Jac Verheul)

There are many types of Flemish games of bowls. Almost each region has its own game. Here is a summary: krulbol (curled bowls), platte bol (flat bowls), ronde bol (round bowls), gaaibol (jay bowls), pierbol (a kind of skittles), putbol (pit bowls), vloerbol (floor bowls), bakbolling (tray bowls), and so on. Some games are practised outdoors, but the most of them are practised indoors, very often in pubs.

In the 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish masters, such as Brueghel the Elder, Teniers, Van Heemskerk, Van Ostade, Brouwer, and so on, created several beautiful paintings of the Flemish games of boules.

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