Though the Dutch were tolerant against foreigners (Portuguese Jews, for example, were warmly welcomed in Amsterdam), they expected of their countrymen to convert to Calvinism after the Reformation. Catholics were not allowed to conduct their worship in public. The catholic minority built clandestine churches (Dutch: schuilkerken): hidden churches that were not recognizable as such from the street.
One of those is “Our Lord in the Attic”, a secret church placed in the loft of a canal house at the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, in the current red light district, in Amsterdam. It was opened in 1661 and has been in use for catholic services for over 200 years, until the Basilica of St. Nicholas was opened. From 1888 on, the attic church has been a museum. However, since recently, the catholic mass is occasionally being celebrated again. Prayers next to moans - only in Amsterdam ;-)
Young Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was a little genius; he entered the University of Leiden aged eleven, and published his first book when he was sixteen. He became the most important legal advisor of Johan van Oldenbarneveldt, Grand Pensionary of the most important province in the Netherlands: Holland.
In the early 17th century, The Netherlands was still at war with Spain, whom were surpressing the little Republic for years. On top of the war with Spain, a great theological controversy broke out between moderate Jacobus Arminius, a theology professor at Leiden, and his followers (who are called Arminians or Remonstrants) and the strongly Calvinist theologian, Franciscus Gomarus (whose supporters are called Gomarists or Counter-Remonstrants).
Grotius was a moderate believer and plead for tolerance between religions, and supported the Remonstrants. When Spain and the Netherlands agreed to an armistice in 1609, the Remonstrants aimed for permanent peace. Dutch Prince Maurits, however, who was the military commander, needed the war to keep up his power. Even if he had no clue about religion, he supported the Counter-Remonstrants, since they were pro-war. In 1618, Maurits couped.
This had bad consequences for Van Oldenbarneveldt and Grotius: they were accused of high treason. Van Oldenbarneveldt was beheaded publicly in 1619, a day after his conviction. Grotius was convicted to lifelong prison in Loevestein Castle, a state prison at that time.
He wasn't planning on staying there until his death, though. He lived there with his wife Maria and their maid, Elselina. Grotius was allowed to study in his prison cell, and he regularly received a large chest of books to this aim, which was later returned to the sender in Gorinchem, a city across the river. This eventually brought Maria to an idea: Grotius should hide in the book's chest and escape. She let him practice for days, in order for him to stay in the chest without making any sound. The escape succeeded on March 22, 1621. He fled to Antwerp and then Paris, where he met his wife again.
What we know as Rembrandts most famous painting, The Night Watch, is actually just not the whole thing. Only seventy-three years after it was finished, the painting was trimmed in order for it to fit into its new location, the Amsterdam town hall. About 60 centimeters were removed from the left side, and smaller strips from the other three sides. Because of that, the composition is now unbalanced, and some of the figures have been removed – just like that.
Also, the popular name is based on a misunderstanding. The Night Watch (whose original title is The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch is not set at night at all! The misleading title was given to the painting in the 18th century, since the varnish had grown so dark over the years. The scene was thus misinterpreted as being nocturnal.
This may just seem to be an ordinary 15th century Dutch house. It is - except for the fact that it were witches that were weighed here.
Established in 1482, this weigh house in Oudewater (near Utrecht) was originally meant for weighing (trading) goods. As witch trials became common in the 16th century, weigh house scales were also used for witch processes. Witches were believed to be light enough to float on water, so if a person was a witch or not could be easily proven by putting them on the scale. Unfortunately, most weigh house scales were manipulated, and many a person was condemned based on a rigged test.
In 1545, Emperor Charles V proclaimed Oudewater’s weigh house as the only fair weighing site in Europe – consequently, not a single witch was ever convicted here.
Mata Hari - the name alone sounds like oriental mystery, seduction and espionage. The girl behind the name was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Frisian town of Leeuwarden, and has turned into a legend.
She was born in 1876 as the first child of a hatter and oil-invester. She grew up in wealth, and being the first daughter she was shamelessly spoiled by her father. She would go around in fancy dresses, and be an outsider because of her flamboyant appearance. However, her father's company went bankrupt when Margaretha was 13, and soon after her parents separated. In 1891, Margaretha's mother died, and the family fell apart. Her father went to Amsterdam to live with his second wife and the children were sent to live with other family members.
She started studying to be a kindergarten teacher in Leiden, and it was there that she learned she was sexually attractive to men: the school's headmaster helplessly fell for her. When a scandal broke out, Margaretha was dismissed from the school and went to live with her uncle in The Hague. At the age of 18, she saw an advertisement in the newspaper that was placed by friends of Rudolf MacLeod, a captain stationed in the Dutch East Indies who was - according to his friends - in desperate need of a wife. Margaretha answered the ad and enclosed a photograph, expecting that her beauty would convince him to choose her. He was twenty years her senior, but she understood that the captain would secure her the financial status she had known as a child, but had missed after her father's bankruptcy. The two got married soon after. She now was a member of the upper class, but because she had to live in the tropics, she hardly had any benefit of that. They got two children, Jeanne and Norman. The latter got poisoned at the age of 2,5, supposedly by medicines against syphilis. Because of Rudolf's rude character and Margaretha's troubles to get used to the Indies, the marriage did not work out. In 1902 they moved back to The Hague and got separated soon after; Rudolf took Jeanne with him. Margaretha was left alone without family, money or a proper education.
… they thought, and so Willem Barentsz and his 16-headed crew set off in order to find a Northeast Passage to the Indies in May 1596. They discovered Bear Island in June, but icebergs and floes in the Arctic Ocean made it impossible for them to continue their journey. The explorers were forced to spend almost a year on Nova Zembla, where they built a shelter with their ship’s lumber. One of the men kept a diary in which he wrote about dealing with extreme cold and their experiences, including hunting foxes and even fighting with polar bears for their survival.
After almost a year they could finally free their ships from the ice and began their return journey. Only twelve crewmen returned to Amsterdam – Willem Barentsz died at sea only seven days after starting out.
Though unsuccessful in finding a northern route, at least he has a sea named after him – and he still is a celebrated hero in Dutch history.
In one of my former blogs, I wrote about the Dutch creating ‘polders’ by draining lakes. This even went so far that the twelfth province of The Netherlands, Flevoland, was entirely created by reclaiming land from the former Zuiderzee.
The mastermind behind the Zuiderzee works was Cornelis Lely (1854-1929). During his terms as Minister of Transport and Water Management, he developed plans to enclose the Zuiderzee – a huge bay of the North Sea covering about 5,000 km2 - and create large polders in the area. He strongly advocated his own ideas, but it needed severe floods along the Zuiderzee shores in 1916 before his plans were finally approved.
The implementation of Lely’s project started in 1927 with the closure of the Zuiderzee by building a 32 km long dike between the provinces of North Holland and Friesland, resulting in a giant lake: the IJsselmeer. The construction of the Afsluitdijk was finished in 1932 (see image above).
On the left in the image above, you can see two schemes for the Wieringer Polder and the Hoornsche Polder, probably drawn in the early 1920s. The sketch of the Hoornsche Polder was the first plan for what would become the neverending Markerwaard project. The Wieringer Polder was completely drained in 1929, enlarging the province of Noord-Holland.
The next image shows an updated plan. The Wieringer Polder is called NW Polder in that, the Hoornsche Polder is enlarged and now called ZW (South West) Polder, and plans for a NO and SO (North resp. South East) Polder have appeared. The area of the Noordoostpolder was first reclaimed; the drainage was finished in 1940. Works on the ZW polder started the year after by building a 2 km long dike north of the small island of Marken, but the works had to be interrupted under the German occupation in World War II.
Well, that is not exactly true, of course there were carriages as well. But as The Netherlands is a water country, goods and passengers moved over the water by means of a trekschuit. This means of travel was faster than by foot (about 7 km an hour), and more comfortable than by coach - if this was at all an alternative. A typical trekschuit could carry about 30 passengers, and was drawn by a horse which stepped on a narrow towpath next to the canal.
The first trekschuit operated between Haarlem and Amsterdam in 1632. The canal it sailed in, called trekvaart, was dug especially for this use. It was an immediate success. The service was extended to Leiden, and an evening service was opened as well.
By the turn of the century, all the important cities in the west provinces of the Netherlands were connected with canals and a trekschuit service. When railway traffic became common in the mid-19th century, the trekschuit traffic became less popular, though it still remained a cheap alternative to the fast train connection for a couple of decades. I remember a movie from the 1940s where my grandmother's family transported their harvest by the means of a trekschuit.
Windmills, wooden shoes and tulips: those are the most popular Dutch trademarks. But tulips don't even grow in the Netherlands originally: they were brought to the country in the late 16th century from the Ottoman Empire (roughly the area that is now Turkey). It was discovered that they could grow in the Low Countries very well, even despite the harsh climate. In the first half of the 17th century, they grew immensely popular because of their intensely colored petals, incomparable to any other plant growing in the Netherlands.
The popularity of tulip bulbs soon turned into a frenzy. Traders were willing to pay prices that exceeded the value of the most expensive canal house in Amsterdam for a single bulb (about 10.000 guilders). To compare: the average income of a Dutchman was about 150 guilders.
The tulip bubble reached her height in the winter of 1636-1637 and collapsed in February 1637, when a trader suddenly could not sell his goods. In the days that followed, the prices descended drastically: the tulip mania was over.
In the beginning of the 17th century, Amsterdam was a fast growing town. Even if we know the Dutch capital as a city full of water today, it was surrounded by even more water back then. Amsterdam is built on moorland; the country around it naturally is full of peat bogs, lakes and little streams. But as the town was expanding, more land was necessary to provide food for all its inhabitants. And so a couple of Amsterdam merchants decided on draining a lake called De Beemster and creating more fertile soil. This comprehensive project - building a 38 kilometer long dike around the lake, digging a canal on the outside of that dike and erecting windmills that would pump the water from the lake – created lots of work places and thus was extremely lucrative for the city.
It took no more than five years until the lake was drained: a polder was created. Ditches were dug, roads were built – with the drainage of De Beemster, the creation of the typical Dutch polder scenery had begun.