Haarlem is a great city in the Province of North Holland. Being the center of the tulip bulb growing district for centuries, it is nicknamed ‘Bloemenstad’, or “flower city”. With a population around 160,000 and a compact inner city, it’s small enough to explore and enjoy. Granted city status in 1245, it has a long and rich history.
Traditionally one of the the most powerful trading cities in Holland, during the 18th century trade shifted to Amsterdam and Haarlem turned into a bedroom community and summer resort with many workers commuting to the larger capital. In the long run this shift has allowed the historic old city center to remain relatively in tact.
The Grote Markt is the center of town and abounds with cafes and shops of all kinds.
Frans Hals Museum
Frans Hals is probably the most celebrated Haarlem artist to emerge during the Dutch Golden Age and has his own museum to prove it.
Coorie Ten Boom Museum
The Ten Booms, a highly devote Christian family, were watchmakers during the second war world. They felt it their duty to help protect those in trouble and used their small house as a hiding place for Jews and Resistance fighters. These actions led to the death of the entire family, with the exception of the young Coorie, at the hands of the Nazi’s.
The Teyers Museum
This was my favorite museum in town. The Teyers is a fascinating mix of early technology, fossils, astronomical equipment,16th & 17th century prints and drawings and great Dutch Golden Age paintings.
The Dutch love their women and well they should. Most are statuesque, self assured and highly educated. Maternity and family leave are hugely important issues here. The country is very close to pay equality and although there still isn’t complete sexual parity in top executive positions, they are rapidly getting there. It seems that strong female role models have always been revered here. Among them is:
Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer
On December 11, 1572 the Spanish army began the siege of Haarlem. During the first two months of the siege, the situation was stable. The Spanish army was digging tunnels to reach the city walls while the defenders dug under them to destroy the Spaniards’ tunnels. By March 29, 1573 the situation worsened when the Spanish and Amsterdam Armies effectively cut off Haarlem from the outside world and began to starve them out. By July 13, 1573, after seven months of siege, the city reached an agreement with the Spaniards to open the city gates in exchange for amnesty and a ban on looting. After surrendering the Spanish reneged on the deal and began looting and slaughtered over 2000 of the city defenders.
Following the siege, the name of Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer began to emerge. Diarists reported that the powerful widow helped defend the city and rebuild the defenses that had been destroyed by enemy cannon. One account mentions that Kenau and other women stood on the earthworks and threw burning tar wreaths onto the enemy who would leap into the river to douse the flames only to drown from the weight of their armor. Over time the legend of Kenau’s role has expanded to full-fledged soldier and commander of a small female army. She has been honored during every celebration of independence from Spain. But, separating fact from fiction in these matters is always difficult and her role in the siege has been the subject of much debate. Regardless, her personality must have been a fearsome thing. We do know for certain that after the war she resumed her trade as a wood merchant importing lumber from Norway. When her captain was taken hostage by pirates she travelled north to negotiate his release and died at the hands of the same pirates.
Definitely the stuff of legend.