The Dutch city of Delft means two things to me: Delft Blue tiles and being the birthplace of the world-famous painter Johannes Vermeer, best known for his painting Girl with a Pearl Earring. Today, modern Delft has kept its old days' beauty and added a modern twist to it. When in the Netherlands, take a day trip to Delft and you will not be disappointed. What to see in Delft? Check my list of the best sights Delft has to offer. But let’s start with a story of Delft tiles.
Story of Delft tiles
The Dutch East India Company was importing very popular blue and white Chinese porcelain in large quantities in the 16th century, inspiring the tile makers in Delft to imitate their style. Delft tiles originally imitated the designs of Chinese porcelain but soon started to integrate Dutch imagery and scenes. The demand for tiles increased substantially during the seventeenth century when well-to-do citizens embellished their houses with impressive fireplaces decorated by Delft tiles. By the end of the 18th century, when British manufacturers started the mass-production of Delft-style tiles, Delftware production in Delft became almost non-existent. Only one of the original Delftware potters is still in operation these days—the Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles, or Royal Delft.
Railway station and city hall
It is very likely that you will arrive in Delft by train. Designed in the Renaissance style, the former train station in Delft was built in 1885. The former station is a true eye-catcher in this newly developed area. The new train station opened in 2015 next to the old one and is located underground making arriving in Delft an unforgettable experience. The station, in combination with the new city hall, sits atop a new train tunnel. The total size of the building is more than 28,000 square meters. A vaulted ceiling features an enormous historic 1877 map of Delft and its surroundings, connecting the station with the city hall. The station hall, walls, and columns are adorned with a contemporary re-interpretation of Delft Blue tiles.
Canals of Delft
The canals of Delft were incorporated into the original city plan. The first canal, the Old Delft, was dug in 1100, coinciding with the birth of the town and giving it its name Delft from the Dutch delven, or digging. This canal was used for draining the land on both sides; later, the canal also served as a waterway for transport. This and other city canals, or grachten, are still central to city life.
Founded in the early 13th century, the oldest parish church in Delft was originally known as Saint Hippolytus-church. The gothic tower, with its brick spire and four angle towers, was added later. Throughout the ages, the leaning tower, probably built on an early filled-up canal, has been the cause of considerable alarm to many inhabitants. In the 19th century, the City Council of Delft, fearing the collapse of the tower, decided that it had to be pulled down to the level of the church roof, but luckily this decision was not implemented. Nowadays, the leaning tower of Oude Kerk is a prominent emblem of Delft being known as the Scheve Jan (Leaning Jan) in the community.In 1675, a famous painter Johannes Vermeer was buried in a family crypt in Oude Kerk. Although the exact location of his grave has been lost during the years, the great Delft artist is in the company of some of the city's most notable citizens.
Legend has it that Nieuwe Kerk was built in the place where a beggar in the 14th century saw a vision of a golden church in the market square. The construction of the basilica started at the end of the 14th century. The church tower was struck in May 1536 by a heavy lighting which, fanned by a strong wind, led to the subsequent fire which devastated a great part of Delft. In 1872, another heavy lighting destroyed the tower once more. It was rebuilt in 1875 to its present height of nearly 109 meters, only surpassed in the Netherlands by the Dom Tower in Utrecht. The Nieuwe Kerk remains the final resting place of nearly all members of the house of Orange-Nassau including all Dutch monarchs. The magnificent monument to William I is admired by many visitors.
Statue of Hugo Grotius
The bronze statue of Hugo Grotius which sits on Markt Square in front of the Nieuwe Kerk was created by Franciscus Leonardus Stracke in 1886. Hugo Grotius was born in Delft in 1583. He was the advocate general of Holland and mayor of Rotterdam at just 26 years of age. Later, Hugo Grotius was sentenced to life in prison at Loevenstein Castle because of his religious beliefs. Hugo Grotius escaped and fled to Paris. In his later years, he served as an ambassador of Sweden to France.
Old Delft City Hall
Delft City Hall on the Markt was designed by municipal architect Hendrick de Keyser in the 17th century. De Keyser was considered one of the best architects of his time. He left two architectural landmarks in Delft: the grave monument of Prince William of Orange at the Nieuwe Kerk and City Hall on the Markt, one of the city’s most distinctive monuments. It is a perfectly balanced, virtually symmetrical building in the Renaissance style. It was built around the late Gothic count’s tower that dates from the 13th century. Het Steen, as the tower is named, was used as a prison. It still houses a medieval prison including the torture instruments. In the 18th century, the building accommodated the gold and silversmith guild and the pharmacist guild. Today, it houses a city pub. The memorial stones in the front and back facades commemorate the guilds.
Born in Delft in1632, Vermeer is one of the most highly regarded Dutch artists of all time. He is also known as Jan Vermeer or Johannes van der Meer. It is presumed that Johannes Vermeer made about fifty paintings, of which 37 have been preserved. Even today, his works inspire artists, scientists, and millions of art lovers. His painting View of Delft is considered as one of the most beautiful and impressive city views of the 17th century. His painting Girl with a Pearl Earring is also known as the Mona Lisa of the North. Tracy Chevalier used the painting as an inspiration for her novel, also named Girl with a Pearl Earring, which was made into a film in 2004. Possibly the most amazing thing about this immensely famous artist is that hardly anyone knew he had lived, let alone painted, for centuries after his death. Where can you see Johannes’s paintings? Three of his paintings can be seen in the Mauritshuis in The Hague and four can be seen in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The other 30 paintings can be seen in various countries throughout Europe and the USA.
The markets in Delft draw visitors from afar. Tourists love to explore hundreds of market stalls. There are colourful flower stalls, merchants selling cheese and other fresh products, and countless antiques, books, and trinkets... The Delft markets can be found in the city’s centre and are a major tourist attraction.
It is interesting to spot the copies of historic ice skates on display on the streets of Delft. Ice skating is very popular in the Netherlands with long traditions. Internationally, it is known from the book Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. It is a fictional story set in the Netherlands in the 1800s about a boy determined to win the ice skating race and with it the coveted silver skates, so he can use the obtained money to cure his father and help his starving family. Thanks to the book Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge, people outside of the Netherlands know how popular ice skating is amongst the Dutch. Interestingly, the Dutch themselves are not familiar with Hans Brinker story.
Oldest stone building
The Delfland Water Authority is located in a historical building on the Oude Delft: the Gemeenlandshuis located on Oude Delft 167. The historic part of it was built in 1505 as a house for Jan de Huyter. The sandstone facade was unique at the time and it was one of the few buildings to survive the 1536 city fire. More than 100 years later, the house came into the hands of the Delfland Water Authority. Nowadays, the historic rooms have been restored. Elements from different periods of construction create beautiful contrasts.
Street art in Kloksteeg
A short walk from the station transports you into the world of street artist Micha de Bie. His work includes icons of Delft, such as Hugo de Groot, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and Vermeer's Milkmaid. The rest of the alley has been decorated with a colourful block pattern, inspired by the colours that frequently appear in Pieter de Hooch's paintings.
Mill the Rose
There were 18 mills spinning in Delft back in the days, nowadays there is only one. Its name is Mill the Rose (Molen de Roos). It is still in use as a flour mill where grain is processed to flour. On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays you can climb upstairs in the mill to see the process and discover the mill from the inside. If you wonder about the shape of the Mill, there is an explanation. Initially, the Mill was made from wood. Step by step the tower was ‘‘petrified’’. That was the reason it got its weird shape. The top of the tower is round, but the bottom is hexagonal.
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Author: Anita Sāne
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