It was a typical peaceful October day in a typical Middle Age town. The weavers, the blacksmiths, the merchants, and the brewers were all going about their business inside the Delft city walls. The farmers were tending their crops and their cattle outside. Then came the explosion. An accidental spark set off a 30-ton cache of gunpowder in 1654 that leveled one-third of the town and killed more than 200 people.
While the city eventually recovered from the catastrophe, it still looks like a very copacetic, idealized, Hollywood image of a tranquil Middle Age town, with some Renaissance touches tossed in for effect. Its weathered, 15th-to 17th-century buildings, its city gate (minus the walls that used to surround it), its church, town hall, and convent, are all laid out along tree-shaded canals.
But it’s not the Middle Ages or even the Renaissance. Current Delft is a picture-postcard (remember those?) perfect town that was the site of several events:
- 1584 when Dutch freedom fighter, William the Orange was assassinated;
- 1600 (or thereabouts), when skilled majolica potters fled Spain to escape the religious terrors and settled in the religiously tolerant Netherlands, where they began producing Delftware;
- 1602, the founding of the Dutch East India Company which traded for Indian silks and South Asian spices and became one of the first global corporations;
- 1654, the death of promising young artist and Rembrandt pupil, Carel Fabritius in the explosion; and
- 1676, when Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope.
We explored the town, soaking in the ambiance and exploring sights. Some of the high points were:
- Markt, the main square, framed by the Town Hall and New Church and lined with café and restaurants;
- New Church is a Gothic church that was begun in the 14th century. Its beautiful soaring 357-foot spire was completed in the 16th century. It houses the elaborate mausoleum of William of Orange and that of most of his royal successors as well as that of the royal opponent, and famed international lawyer, Hugo Grotius. Interactive displays, not to speak of the church’s stained glass windows, explain each of them and the historical context in which they lived and, in the case of the Oranges, ruled;
- Old Church (Oude Kerk) is a Gothic structure whose tower dates from the 14th century. It contains several tombs and temporarily, artist Erwin Wurm’s roughly four-foot-wide Narrow House, with scaled sized kitchen, bathroom, living and dining room;
- Town Hall which dates from 1618, built around a 13th-century tower;
- Broterbrug district of the city, with its upscale homes and the oldest building in the city, a 1505 Gothic-style house adorned with several coats of arms.
- Armanentarium, the huge brick arsenal decorated by a sculpture of Mars standing atop a weapons cache;
- The house in which the Dutch East India Company was founded and from which it initially ran;
- Prinsenhof Museum, which was built as a convent in the 15th century.
Although we hoped to tour the Royal Delft Factory and its museum, the timing didn’t work out. We settled for an exploration of one of the few Delftware stores in the city, with its wide range of products and into staggering prices. And who could resist sitting in a Dutch shoe.
And as luck would have it, we found some stores sampling Dutch cheeses, where, of no surprise, our tastes ran to the extra-aged cheeses, particularly goat and cow.
Delft Lunch Restaurant
The main square in Delft is filled with restaurants. After looking at numerous menus, we stopped at Van 9 tot Zeven. Although the food took some time to be delivered to our table, we had three satisfactory dishes: chicken satay and meatball and mushroom sandwich (both with salads) and a sampling of the local “poffertjes”, called Dutch pancakes (more like fried donuts) topped with powdered sugar, whipped cream and strawberries. While the poffertjes were not our style, we had to try them. at least once.