Monday, May 12, 2008

Secrets of Holland: Dordrecht, Schiedam, Delft, Haarlem, Gouda and Leiden

In the Dutch marshes of the sixteenth century a miracle took place. Despite a lack of materials and swampy conditions merchants managed to amass their fortunes. Trade turned out to be a gold mine.

Owing to the economic prosperity the cities flourished. The merchants built beautiful mansions, the interiors of which they also paid a lot of attention to. They commissioned painters to make their portraits, and the famous Dutch School developed. Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals, to name but a few, belonged to this school. Potteries found a ready market for their products. This period of prosperity became known as the Golden Age.

Today, the fruits of this renowned past are still reaped in the cities of Dordrecht, Schiedam, Delft, Haarlem, Gouda and Leiden, in particular. Their numerous monuments and museums bear witness to this era of prosperity. Small wonder then, that in these six cities the past is still cherished under the name Secrets of Holland.

Delft, famous thanks to stolen porcelain

A plate, a beautiful vase... When people say Delft, the first thing that comes in mind is Delftware. And for good reason. This typical pottery is still important to Delft today. And all this because of a sea battle in the Far East.

Town trivia. Steal only if it's worth it

Between 1647 and 1665, China was plagued with civil wars. This made it impossible for VOC merchants to obtain porcelain and to meet the enormous demand. Delft's potters seized the opportunity and immediately started making pottery with very authentic looking chinese designs. This plate is now on display at the Museum Lambert van Meerten.


  • Municipal Museum Lambert van Meerten
    A delftware museum housed in a 19th century manor

  • Municipal Museum het Prinsenhof
    Former residence of William of Orange: paintings, pottery, House of Orange Exihibition.

  • Museum Paul T鴡r van Elven
    Period rooms and art collection of this 19th century painter.

  • De Koninklijke
    Porcelyne Fles
    A 17th century earthenware factory, with tours and a shop.

  • The New church
    A 14th century Late Gothic cruciform basilica with the tomb of William of Orange.

  • The Old Church
    Built from c.1200 onwards, in various styles. Tomb of Johannes Vermeer.

  • Dutch Army Museum
    A captivating overview of Dutch military history, including the Eighty Years' War.

Dordrecht, Holland's historical port

Look, that's where the ships from Bordeaux used to arrive... And, there, the rafts with the Rhine wood! Although the cranes and carts have been replaced by cosy little shops and terraces, it is easy to imagine how lively this port of Holland used to be.

Town trivia. Salmon as a staple food

The rivers not only brought Dordrecht trade, but also an abundance of fish, and salmon in particular. There was so much salmon in the area that wealthy families would feed their servants salmon every day. They became so tired of salmon that they insisted on not having to eat salmon every day... Once a staple food, salmon is now a delicacy which yopu will be able to enjoy in one of the stylish Dordrecht restaurants.


  • Het Hof
    Featuring the States Hall where, in 1572, William of Orange organizeed the resistance against the Spanish rulers. It is the birthplace of the Netherlands as an independant nation.

  • Dordrechts museum
    Featuring a special collection of Dutch paintings, drawings and prints from the 17th century until the present.

  • Mr. Simon van Gijn Museum
    An 18th century manor with period rooms, a period kitchen, collections of glassware, pottery, paintings, ship models, and antique toys.

  • The Great Church
    This Late Gothic cruciform church, with its typical tower and beautiful choir stalls, was rebuilt after the great fire of 1457.

  • Groothoofd
    This gate offers a unique view of the busy river junction with lively terraces on the quays.

Haarlem, a city of flowers for centuries

Narcissus, daffodils, geraniums- getting to know Haarlem means getting to know flowers. Wi th its phenomenal St. Bavo Cathedral and splendid architecture, this provincial capital is traditionally famous for its flowers. Haarlem is also where the painter Frans Hals spent most of his life.

Town trivia.When art was just a tool.

Merchants would make drawings depicting the flower inside the bulb. That is why we now have thousands of magnificent drawings of blooming tulips. These have been bound in so-called 'flower books' of which 17th century specimens are on display at the Frans Hals Museum. The Teyler Museum owns 18th and 19th century flower books from all parts of Europe. But flowers were also used for decoration, e.g.on this money chest at the Frans Hals Museum.


  • Frans Hals Museum
    A unique collection of paintings by Frans Hals and his contemporaries. An annual flower exhibition.

  • Vleeshal
    Located in the main square, this Butcher's Hall is now the annexe of the Frans Hals Museum.

  • The Great Church or the Saint Bavo Cathedral
    An impressive Late Gothic Church.

  • Teylers Museum
    The oldest museum in the Netherlands, featuring a special collection of drawings by Dutch and Italian masters. Until September 20th the museum garden is dedicated to the Naturalia exhibition.

  • Historical Museum South Kennemerland
    A spectacular audiovisual presentation of the history of Haarlem and its flower girls.

Gouda, a fairytale town where pictures tell a story

Gouda is famous for its fairytale town hall and its lively cheese markets. But also for its church, St. Janskerk, with its stained-glass windows depicting the history of Holland.

Town trivia. Unique altar pieces

During the Fury of 1566, Gouda's citizens not only saved the stained-glass windows, but also the altar pieces from St. Janskerk and other churches. These special 16th century works of art are on display at the nearby Catharina Gasthuis Museum.

They include the central panel of a triptych, The Adoration of the shepherds of Dirk Barendsz. It is surrounded by Dutch masters and Dutch impressionists.


  • The Town Hall
    A precious example of Late Gothic architecture. Unique 17th century tapestries in wedding hall.

  • The Gouda Windows
    Dozens of 16th century stained-glass windows inside St. Janskerk.

  • Catharina Gasthuis Museum
    Paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, Dutch and French Impressionists, and modern art.

  • Museum De Moriaan
    An 18th century tobacco shop, famous Gouda pottery, and the history of the Gouda clay pipe.

  • The Weigh House
    Formerly used to weigh cheese, this building now houses a cheese museum.

  • Resistance Museum
    A fascinating collection and a delightful, enclosed sculpture garden.

  • Pipe Museum Adrie Moerings
    See how traditional Gouda clay pipes are made.

Leiden, a museum town thanks to heroism

'Here's a knife. Go ahead and eat me.' These are legendary words spoken by the mayor of Leiden to his starving citizins in 1574 when they were about to surrender to the Spanish. His heroic behaviour kept them alive, resulting in the Relief of Leiden. To express his appreciation, William of Orange gave the town its university, thereby laying the foundation for Leiden to become a museum town.

Town trivia. Hutspot at Lammenschans

To end the siege by the Spanish, the Prince of Orange gave orders to open the dikes. When the water approached Leiden on 2 October 1574, the Spanish fled en masse. A boy named Cornelis Joppenszoon sneaked through the gates to Lammenschans to see if they had really left. All he found was a smouldering fire with a stew of carrots, onions and meat simmering on top. This hutspot has since been associated with Leiden ever since. The relief of Leiden is celebrated each year on October 2nd and 3rd all over the city.


  • National Museum of Antiquities
    Brilliant collections from Egypt, the near East, Greece, Rome and The Netherlands. Special exhibition 'Who's Afraid of Ancient Blue?' until December 31st, 54 colossal ancient statues are exhibited in an azure decor.

  • Municipal Museum De Lakenhal
    A historical building featuring the history of the textile industry and a special collection of Dutch masters.

  • Museum of the Pilgrim Fathers
    A small museum entirely dedicated to the Pilgrim Fathers. Read more about the pilgrims in Leiden on the Municipal Archive site.

  • Museum Boerhaave
    A museum of natural history and medical science. The exhibition 'Steam, Steel and Scholars' (until May 3rd) gives an impression of the changing landscape of science in the Netherlands, as well as of the drastic changes which science and technology brought about in Dutch society. The period covered is roughly from Napoleon until the outbreak of the First World War.

  • Botanical Garden
    Special plants have been cultivated here for 400 years.

  • Museum Naturalis
    A museum featuring fossils that are millions of years old, two dinosaurs, and other prehistorical animals.

Schiedam, a town of windmills and distilleries

Almost every type of gin consumed worldwide has its origin in Schiedam. Numerous distilleries and gigantic windmills have given the baroque center its unique character. Have a drink in Schiedam and absorb its rich history.

Town trivia.Hats off for the Nolet Family

Wealthy distillers built stately manors opposite their distilleries and warehouses so that they could supervise the work. The story goes that old Mrs. Nolet would sit by the window of her manor (Lange Haven 65) every day. Employees of the Nolet distillery had to take their hats off when passing by. If not, they were punished. Two strikes meant suspension, three strikes meant dismissal! This policy proved to be successful, since out of the five Schiedam distilleries, Nolet's is the only one left. Their gin is known as Ketel 1. Hats off for the Nolet family!


  • De Nieuwe Palmboom
    (Dutch Grinding Windmill Museum)
    This windmill still grinds rye and malt for distilleries and shows the history and meaning of Schiedam's windmills.

  • De Gekroonde Brandersketel
    (Dutch Spirits Museum)
    In a lively manner, this museum tells you all about the making of Schiedam gin... and lets you taste it, too!

  • De Noordmolen
    One of the five fully-intact windmills of Schiedam, it is now a restaurant.

  • Schiedam Municipal Museum
    Housed in an elegant baroque building, it features artwork and objects from Schiedam's rich history, as well as Dutch post-war art, including CoBrA, pop-art and abstract expressionism.

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