Castles and Forts

When one thinks about Holland, wouldn’t it be windmills and dykes that come to your mind first and foremost? Would it surprise you that there are castles in Holland too?

Well, it should not. Like all other European countries, Holland had its fair share of wars. Conflicts between rival dynasties and nobility in the middle ages come to mind. Initially a collection of tiny counties, the geography that is now Holland and Belgium collectively came under the suzerainty of a duke in the early middle ages. In fact, the Dutch only gained true independence in the 1500s after a series of wars with first the Austrian and later the Spanish.

Muiderslot, famed medieval castle of Holland?

Muiderslot5If one lives in Amsterdam, then it is not far from one of the famed castle locations of Holland (~15km away).

Muiderslot (also called Muiden castle) was first built around 1280 by a noble (Count Floris V) but it was destroyed in a conflict with the church nobles of Utrecht. There is actually an interesting story behind this if you care to read. Muiderslot1

Rebuilt in 1370 by the Count of Holland, the castle today retains the character from the time of its construction. So, we are looking at architectural style of building fortifications from the time of the late middle ages. Just so you know, the castle was used to exact toll on trade that used the Vecht river.

Muiderslot3In the centuries that followed, the castle was said to have been used as a prison and a courthouse. It had squires to manage it till the 1800s when it fell derelict. It was actually offered for sale with intent to demolish it in 1825? Fortunately there was foresight to preserve this gem of history and over the last century it has been restored such that the interior is made to look like how it would be in the 17th century.

Today this castle serves as a museum and can be used as a venue for various events. In fact for the Christmas of 2004, Mel organized a party for the office here replete with medieval dressed buskers and two cavalry horsewomen welcoming the invited guests!

Het Loo, a Dutch copy of Versailles

The 16th and 17th century can be said to be high with French influence throughout Europe. The Sun King of France (Louis XIV) had built the Versailles which was considered so opulent that it became desirable for royalty of the other European countries to mimic/copy the design.het'Loo 10

It was no different in Holland some say.

Built in 1684, the “paleis” is not really a palace but rather a retreat. It was the official residence of the House of Orange-Nassau, a noble family that ruled Holland. In 1984, this was made a museum which afforded us the opportunity to visit.

het'Loo 09If you think this is one more copy of Versailles, you might be mistaken. For while at first it appears so, there are unique differences in the way Dutch baroque designs from the French. Besides, the residence was built just after the wars between Holland and France. The owners – ie Dutch royal family, was hardly in love with France.

The palace itself and the surrounding gardens have largely been restored to their original 17th-century design. As you walk through the palace rooms, they paint a vivid picture of the royal family’s domestic life over three centuries, from William and Mary up to the reign of Queen Wilhelmina.

The wings of the palace, with their permanent and visiting exhibitions of historical objects, documents, paintings, bone china, silver, royal garments and court costumes illustrates the historical ties of the House of Orange- Nassau with the Netherlands. A collection of royal carriages, hunting coaches, sleighs and veteran cars are also exhibited in the stables.

A great outing in spring time and summer.

Castel de Haar, fairytale reenactment?

De Haar3While the building is barely over 120 years old, Castle de Haar was born out of restorative efforts to revive an old site from the 13th century. Over a period of 10 years from 1892, the castle was rebuilt for the Baron who owned it.De Haar5

The Van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar family was known to have resided in this restored castle for a month each year. In its hey days, the Baron would host lavish parties to prominent invited international guests. It is said that some of the guests that came through the gates of the castle includes the likes of Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and even Brigitte Bardot.

De Haar1The castle is surrounded by a large expanse of woodland (said to be 135 acres) in which many people walk or have picnics. It is said that the trees in this park came from every part of the province of Utrecht. If you tour the interior, a beautiful collection of art is housed within. Our journey here was with Suan’s parents. It was an easy walk and definitely a place to bring your in-laws…

Today a private foundation runs the castle and organizes tours and activities.

While here, we drove around Haarzuilens too. Here picturesque houses line the canals. Even the swans are out for a “stroll”!

Castles in Holland, we certainly did not visit them all, but now you know that there is more than windmills and dykes to see if you spend time in Holland.

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