The earliest mention of Brakel Castle dates from the mid-13th century. At that time, it was a square, moated castle, situated close to the village of Brakel behind the newly-built Waaldijk dike. In 1321, the castle was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire. This led the knight Sir Eustachius van Brakel to lend his castle to the Count of Guelders in exchange for the count’s protection. Unfortunately, this was not enough to defend the castle against the hostile forces of the Count of Holland in 1407. The castle was destroyed and then rebuilt once again. In 1574, the Brakel Castle was plundered by the Spanish and subsequently blown up by French soldiers in 1672.

After this final blow, the medieval castle was never rebuilt. Work on the new house did not start until 1786, more than a hundred years later. The castle ruins were preserved and included in the design of the new landscape gardens and the south-west tower was partially restored. The owner was a collector of antiquities who chose to include grave stones and memorial plaques in the new walls for the house. He also established an archaeological museum in the medieval grain store called ‘Het Spijker’ (The Nail).

The national heritage foundations Het Geldersch Landschap and Geldersche Kasteelen acquired Brakel House in 1972. They turned the walled garden next to the ruins into a flower, herb and vegetable garden and restored the surrounding parklands to their former glory. In the 19th century, medieval ruins in landscaped gardens were the height of fashion and this example at Brakel House is the only one to survive in Gelderland.

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Founded: 13th century
Category: Ruins in Netherlands

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Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.