20 minutes from Amsterdam, but different.
The oldest city in North Holland is Haarlem, only 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam central station.
An important trade town, a council and juridical centre in medieval times, when Amsterdam was still nothing more than a hamlet. Just as an example to illustrate : for capital and corporal punishment Amsterdam never had an executioner of its own. They had to hire one in Haarlem.
And Haarlem is still the capital of North Holland.
The building that has been dominating Haarlem's skyline for the past 600 years is the St.-Bavo church.
See the Jacob van Ruisdael painting below, and a detail of it on top of this page.
A magnificent 17th century panorama of city and surrounding landscape.
To view this painting in high resolution in the Rijksmuseum Collection, click here or on the painting's image below.
The cathedral also houses a world-famous 18th century organ. Concerts are regularly held. If you happen to be around, don't miss the opportunity. You will not only be overwhelmed by the sound of the organ, you will feel it as well.
See and hear this organ on YouTube.
During Holland's "golden 17th century", Haarlem was the third largest town after Amsterdam and Leiden. Many so-called "hofjes", courts of almshouses, date of that period.
Always a special experience, walking through a door in a busy street, and discovering these serene little islands. Visitors are usually welcome, but people do live here. So respecting privacy is expected. No peeking though the window please.
It's marked when you're allowed to enter the courtyard. Generally Monday - Saturday, 10 AM - 5 PM.
Many painters lived and worked in Haarlem. Frans Hals for example.
Born in Antwerp, Hals' family fled from war, and headed north. Like so many others. Around 1600 about 40% of booming Haarlem consisted of refugees from Flanders and other southern parts of the Netherlands. See history background.
The Frans Hals museum is located in one of these lovely "hofjes", in this case in a former Old Men's house built 1609.
Of course, works by Frans Hals and family. Although the focus is on 17th century painters, there's interesting work of older age as well. And also, the rooms are nicely furnished with contemporary objects.
Website museum : www.franshalsmuseum.nl.
There are more fine houses and museums worth visiting in Haarlem.
Very unique is the Teylers Museum. Building and content sort of a temple for the ideals of enlightenment, that flourished in late 17th - 18th century Holland. Aiming at reforming society bringing tolerance and equal rights for all, man and woman alike. Art and objective science to be popularized with lectures and exhibitions.
The Teylers Museum is the only one in the world with an 18th century collection in an authentic building.
"Modern" science of the era still on display. Like the 1784 electrostatic generator, capable of generating 330.000 volts and electric sparks of 61 centimetres. The largest machine of its kind ever built.
Website of the Teylers Museum : www.teylersmuseum.nl
Miscellaneous on Haarlem :
Haarlem gave its name to Harlem, New York.
When this part of America was the Dutch colony of New Netherland, a settlement was founded on the northern part of the island Manhattan : Nieuw (New) Haarlem.
For America's Dutch Heritage, see www.newnetherlandinstitute.org.
A legendary Haarlem character is Kenau, a woman who actively participated in the Eighty Years' War of Independence, when the city was besieged by Spanish troops, and finally taken and massacred. See Kenau, a woman who stood up to fight.
Haarlem was also a city of beer brewers, thanks to the clear water ferried in from the nearby dunes. Once, there were about 100 breweries in town. But just like it happened everywhere these small producers gradually closed down.
With the renewed interest for local beers, activity was resumed. Like at the Jopenbier brewery, where they have a rather spectacular setting for their grand café.
Brewery website : www.jopenkerk.nl.
More on Haarlem :
Haarlem on Wikipedia : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haarlem
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