Menen is located on the left bank of the Leie river, which forms from here on the border between Belgium and France. Menen's position near the French border led to many sieges in the history of the city. There were as many as 22 sieges between 1579 and 1830. The city was part of France between 1668 and 1713. Vauban turned Menen into a model-fortification (1679–1689). The city was born at a ford on the River Leie and is first mentioned in a Latin document from 1087. Economic prosperity started after 1351, when count Louis II of Flanders in a charter granted the permission to produce wool cloth, to set up a store for wool thread and to organize a market once a week and a year market. Soon Menen became a counterweight to big Flemish cities such as Ghent and Kortrijk. But from the beginning of the 15th c the Flemish wool industry declined, also the one at Menen, and when it seemed to recover three quarter of the city was turned into ashes in the city fire of 1488. From the second half of the 16th c and 17th c, when the Low Countries were ravaged by wars, textile industry had a low profile, the town was renowned for its beer, having 104 master brewers… Economic Menen had again a flowering period after 1748. As a border town it has a great attraction for entreprises. The Leie was a main transport route between the South and the North, while the paved road Kortrijk-Menen was constructed and the road Menen-Roeselare-Brugge redesigned. All travelers coming from France admired the quality of these and other roads in the area. The geographic situation and the transport network attracted new industries such as the tobacco industry to replace the waning brewing .The wool, cotton and yarn industry have a revival. Moreover, the border city without real physical barriers separating the countries, could benefit from the smuggling - which on its own became a big business. Cloth, stockings, spirits, wine and perfume were smuggled from France in return for flax, wool, tobacco and livestock - a "trade" which continued till the opening of the European inner borders in 1993. Another important characteristic of this border area (and to some extend of the whole of West-Flanders) was the transfrontier work. While the province of West-Flanders, with the exception of some towns, largely kept an agricultural character, cultivating food and industrial crop (flax, tobacco, hops, chicory,…) and processing these to raw materials which were elsewhere processed to finished products. Since the mid 19th c thousands of Flemings traveled to the North of France to work in the textile mills. Just to give an example: in a recently demolished textile mill situated just across the border in Halluin, the French neighbour town of Menen, 90% of the workforce were Belgians. The cotton mills were situated in France (Halluin, Ronq, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Armentières,…) but workforce was shuttling from Belgium, flax was grown and flax fibres produced in Belgium - but rarely spun or woven and sold abroad, mainly to Ireland. To some extent one can speak of a satellite city towards the agglomeration Lille-Roubaix- Tourcoing. In the 19th century Menen did not have a thriving industry. The low level of industrial activity in Menin consisted mainly of flax, cotton, lace and tobacco. The city is still a main production center of the tobacco manufacturing industry in the Leie region together with its neighbour Wervik (where the tobacco was grown). From the second half of the 19th c small businesses of all sorts, among more a gas factory, two rubber companies producing among other things waterproof clothes for the army, iron foundry and brick kilns. Many companies had a double legal (and even production) seat, namely Menin and Halluin to evade customs duty. The town is now still the seat of the Cappelle company, producing pigments since 1919. The economic revival of mainly flax fibre and tobacco industry in Menen had an end with the outbreak of the First World War. From October 14, 1914 Menen was occupied by German troops and became responsible for the quartering of soldiers. It was a rallying point for troops and a new resting place for the troops returning from the front. Also Word War II had a negative effect, and Menen has been recovering till very recently. All these elements, traces of the history and the heritage linked to it, can clearly been seen and experienced in Menen and are part of its attraction and revival. Over 50 buildings in the town are currently on the protected heritage list - between them a unique the flax site and the linseed oil and flour windmill "de Goede Hoop" (the Good Hope). Moreover Menen has two museums, the private 'Magic Jukebox Museum' and the local art and history museum 't Schippershof, accommodated in a 17th-century restored building in the town centre. A protected old tobacco factory - which still holds elements of the former Vauban hospital - has been re-used and turned into lofts.
During the First World War Menen suffered heavily. The railway station and the railway, which was strategically very important, were completely destroyed. The station was rebuilt in the 1920s from its rubble. During the Second World War, in May 1940, aerial bombing destroyed again large part of it. In 1948, a cubism part was added to the remains.