Willemstad Fortress

Willemstad, Netherlands

In 1583 the Spanish took the town of Steenbergen situated just south of the current Willemstad. According to William I of Orange'this formed a threat for the rest of the Netherlands and he decided to fortify the village of Ruigenhil. William came into possession of the town after the new marquis took sides with the Spanish in 1567 and was discharged of his possession. As a dispensation for all the costs of the war William was declared the new marquis by the Dutch state.

The position of Ruigenhil was a very strategic one; right on the border between the southern and northern Netherlands along one of the most important Dutch rivers, the Maas. Abraham Andriesz (an prolific military engineer in the Netherlands at that time) designed the fortications in 1583.

In 1584, the same year William I of Orange died, the city was renamed Willemstad in his honour. In 1609 a twelve year long truce was signed between Spain and the Netherlands. As a consequence of this the discharge of the old marquis in 1567 was declared illegal and the lands had to be returned. Willemstad remained in the hands of Maurits (William's son) because William fortified the town (according to the treaty the parties had the right to keep the towns they fortified). From that time on Willemstad has always been an estate of the crown, giving it special rights and a certain amount of independence. The fortifications have changed over the years in accordance with updated fortification theories and the overall form of the current fortress dates from the 1680s.

The fortifications were designed according to the Old Dutch System, only here the flanks of the bastions'are not perpendicular to the curtain walls but have a retreated curved shape (the use of these arrow-headed bastions'suggests an Italian influence) and are quite short. In later years some of these flanks were modified to make them perpendicular to the curtain wall. Apart from the walls facing the sea, which were revetted in brick, all the ramparts were unrevetted earthworks.

The seaward front of the town consists of two bastions with water in front of them. Between this water and the river (which in the past was part of the sea) there is a glacis, which prevented ships from coming too close to the walls and gave extra protection against enemy fire. A small canal connects the harbour inside the city with the river. The water in the ditch'is cut of from the river by a dam.

In later centuries buildings like powder magazines, bombshelters and, in WW II, blockhouses have been added. These mainly 19th century later additions to the fortress are quite extensive and very well preserved.

The fortress officially lost its military status in 1926. The population of Willemstad asked for the preservation of the fortifications and today the town and its surroundings are a monument. According to me the beauty of this fortress lies in two things: the waterworks with the harbour and the surrounding lands. The harbour is still right near the water and is used intensively, this also adds to the historic atmosphere.

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Founded: 1583
Category: Castles and fortifications in Netherlands

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Ais Petit (3 years ago)
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Mooie gelegenheid om historie te beleven en in een tractor aangedreven huifkar door de omgeving te worden geleid.
Evert Mosch (3 years ago)
Kunst met een grote K.
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Mooie lokatie voor een bedrijfs uitje!!
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