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Naarden

Listed under Historic Towns and Villages in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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Naarden, some 20 km East of Amsterdam, is one of the best preserved fortified towns in Europe. The old centre is surrounded by a double ring of bastions and moats. Cobblestone streets, fine old buildings, a very relaxed place to visit.

But it was not always peace and quiet in these parts!

When walking or cycling along the wooded shores of the former Zuiderzee (Southern Sea) north of present day Naarden, very few people realise that they’re passing along the grave of one of those many drowned towns in the Netherlands.

In fact, somewhere half way between the beach and the new polders of Flevoland on the horizon, the remains of Old Naarden must lay scattered on the bottom of the waters.

In the 9th Century, at the time of the Vikings, there was a stone church here. A very expensive material in muddy Holland, and a sign of the importance of this small, but strategic town. That was not going to prove a blessing only.

Around 1300 AD a couple of super storms swept over Holland. Hundreds of thousands acres of land were washed away, and almost in one blow a giant inland sea was created : the Zuiderzee. Also Old Naarden suffered greatly, and when in 1350 the place was one time to often heavily damaged during one of the many wars of the epoch, the town was finally abandoned and “given to the seas”.

A few miles inland, on higher ground, and within a few years, the new town of Naarden was swiftly rebuilt on its present location. It rapidly became the regional capital, and a prosperous merchant town.

Then came the Dutch revolution against Spanish rule, what turned into the Eighty-Years-War of Independence (1568-1648). In the early years of the uprising there was confusion and mixed feelings among the population : an all out rebellion against the king or a compromise? So, when in 1572 a Spanish army made its way towards them the city gates of Naarden were rather reluctantly opened and the soldiers welcomed with a meal. What the people did not know was that the Spanish commander had secret orders. The king wanted to frighten once and for all his Dutch subjects into submission: to set an example the doomed town had to be burnt to the ground, and not one soul was to be left alive… And that’s exactly what happened.

This massacre (and others) proved to be decisive turning points of the revolt, and an immense mistake of the Spanish. Because now, the war started in earnest. The Dutch felt they had no choice but to fight till the end.

A few years later the town was again rebuilt, and being the key to Amsterdam, gradually surrounded by the elaborate fortifications we can see today. The strategic place was subject of much more fighting, by Spanish, French and Prussians. The last siege dating from 1814.

Today the fortified centre of Naarden is a great place to stroll around, with its unique 17th Century atmosphere. Some nice old shops (also design and antiques), and a couple of fine cafes and restaurants.

The Fortress Museum (www.vestingmuseum.nl) is located in one of the bastions. You can walk through a network of underground tunnels and fortifications. And the working of the Waterline is explained: military lines of defense around Amsterdam and extending 85 km long from north to south (www.hollandsewaterlinie.nl).

The Great Church is one of the few surviving medieval buildings. With very special paintings on the arched vaults. One of the altar stones is supposed to be the only surviving remnant of the drowned old town. The church being famous for its acoustics, there are regularly concerts, especially of organ and choral music.

One can climb the church tower, for a bird’s eye view of fortress and surroundings.

Also in Naarden : The Comenius Mausoleum and museum, ‘holy ground’ for many visiting Czechs and Slovaks. (www.comeniusmuseum.nl)

A walking visit to the town and its museums is possible year round.

A great experience is a town visit combined with a cycling trip in the surrounding countryside, and the old towns of Weesp or Muiden (with medieval castle) ; best time of year for a cycling trip is between April and October.

More Information from Guide Holland.

Written by  Edmond Van Putte.

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