On the waterfront, gateway to Portugal’s Age of Discoveries

Walking off the brightly sunlit street, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the gloom of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery). When your eyes have adjusted, your mind has to follow suit. This is a magnificent building, in size, grandeur and its historical significance. This is where Vasco de Gama’s crew prayed in 1497 before departing on a voyage that would change history.

Nearly a year after departing these shores, in May 1498 de Gama’s crew became the first Europeans to discover India. Rounding the Cape of Good Hope they crossed the Indian Ocean and arriving in Calicut. The discovery of India changed everything. The opulence and wealth of India, and of its native rulers, was obvious. The European desire to have a share if it, insatiable.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Soon a network of trade routes flourished, pepper, cinnamon and other sought-after spices began to flow towards Lisbon. Gold flowed into the coffers of the Portuguese Crown and sparked a fierce rivalry with just about every other European nation. India’s discovery helped establish the Portuguese Empire and virtually ensured the rest of Europe would want a slice of that particular pie.

Built with an enormous amount of money from the booming early 16th century spice trade, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is a massive structure with vast stone pillars soaring to the domed roof. The ceiling is ornately carved and looks like a giant spider’s web; beautiful and ancient stained glass windows adorn the walls.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Europe’s early exploration and huge accumulation of wealth led to a truly impressive burst of artistic and architectural creativity. The Mosteiro embodies the Age of Exploration, exemplifying Portugal’s “Golden Age”; and fittingly this is the building where the most famous of all Portugal’s early explorers, Vasco da Gama, is entombed in beautifully carved marble. For a traveller, a visit to Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without a pilgrimage to see de Gama’s final resting place.

Vasco de Gama's tomb, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

Vasco de Gama’s tomb, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal

A little walk through some gardens brings you to the banks of the Rio Tejo, where fishermen try their luck and a couple of other monuments to Portugal’s Golden Age are found. The Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries, was opened to the public in 1960 to commemorate Portugal’s past glories at a moment of right wing nationalist tub thumping.

Fisherman on the Rio Tejo Lisbon, Portugal

Fisherman on the Rio Tejo Lisbon, Portugal

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

Harmless as it may look, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos was built by the Estado Novo government of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, in part to send a message to Portugal’s African colonies. When the rest of Europe was retreating in the face of pro-independence movements in the 1950s and 1960s, Salazar’s pro-colonial ideology saw Portugal dragged into colonial wars which only ended with a 1974 military coup overthrowing the Estado Novo.

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

Not so subtle message or not, the Monument to the Discoveries is a dramatic piece of sculpture. Along the sides are numerous carved figures of rather pious looking individuals facing towards the horizon. The wonderful thing is you can climb up inside the monument and get tremendous panoramic views over the river and town. Looking down there is a giant map of the world showing the dates of each of Portugal’s discoveries.

View from the Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

View from the Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

View from the Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

View from the Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

View from the Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

View from the Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal

Stroll a little further along the river front and you arrive at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Belém Tower. It initially struck me that this rather odd boat like structure was just for ornament, but this was part of an elaborate defence system in the early 16th Century. It was still seeing action during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th Century. This little stretch of waterfront has seen its share of history.

Belém Tower, Rio Tejo, Lisbon, Portugal

Belém Tower, Rio Tejo, Lisbon, Portugal

Old Europe, the streets of Lisbon (II)

Lisbon is a city of tightly packed streets. Periodically you’ll find yourself emerging into the sunlight and presented with tremendous views over the city and the River Tejo. Ancient looking yellow trams rattle their way up cobbled roads; people drink strong coffee in cafes or sip chilled Vino Verde at outdoor restaurants. Overhead washing hangs from windows. Life here has its own rhythm, one that has dominated the city for centuries.

Street in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal

Street in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal

Flowers, Lisbon, Portugal

Flowers, Lisbon, Portugal

Yellow tram on the streets of Lisbon, Portugal

Yellow tram on the streets of Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is full of beauty. Whether it is the small alleys leading into intimate plazas; red tiled rooftops stretching off into the distance; ornate blue and white tiled buildings; ancient monasteries and overwrought, elaborate church interiors; or outdoor restaurants serving up perfect fish; small cafes with delicious Pasteis de Nata and expresso, this is a city that is a joy to explore. If they could sort out the rush hour traffic mayhem, it would be perfect.

Street in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal

Street in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal

Flowers on a balcony, Lisbon, Portugal

Flowers on a balcony, Lisbon, Portugal

Street in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal

Street in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal

I hesitate to say this, but compared to many other cities across Europe, Lisbon feels truly ‘authentic’. ‘Hesitate’ because what I really mean is there is a pleasant lack of the all-enveloping tourist consumerism that seems to suffocate some cities. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos may become crowded with coach loads of day trippers, but the streets of Alfama and adjoining neighbourhoods feel remarkably tourism (if not tourist) free.

The hassle-free nature of visiting Lisbon allows you to absorb the town’s history without having to haggle your way down the street…and Lisbon’s history is worth taking time to absorb.

Street in Street in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal, Portugal

Street in Lisbon, Street in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal

Views over  Lisbon, Portugal

Views over Lisbon, Portugal

Founded around 1200BC, this is one of of Europe’s oldest cities. Civilisations have come and gone from Lisbon: Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Barbarians, Visigoths, Berbers and Arabs all knew Lisbon before the Reconquista re-established Christianity across the Iberian Peninsula. Under Moorish rule Christians and Jews were granted equal protection under the law, no such luck for the Jews and Muslims under Christian rule: convert, flee or die were their options.

Houses, Lisbon, Portugal

Houses, Lisbon, Portugal

Cat on a window ledge, Lisbon, Portugal

Cat on a window ledge, Lisbon, Portugal

The Reconquista of 1147 re-established Christianity and there are dozens of churches to act as witness to this fact. From the 15th Century onwards, it was from here that Portuguese navigators set sail to discover the ‘New World’, sparking a Europe-wide competition to first trade and then colonise vast swathes of the globe. Portugal became wealthy from the spice trade, entering a ‘Golden Age’ in the 16th Century – cue yet more church building.

In more recent times, Lisbon’s fate (and that of Portugal) has been a long slow decline, not helped by a couple of monstrously destructive earthquakes along the way. By mid-20th Century, Portugal became one of the poorest countries in Western Europe. A series of 20th Century Republics resulted in a Fascist dictatorship, which only ended in 1974 with the loss of Portugal’s remaining colonies.

Views over  Lisbon, Portugal

Views over Lisbon, Portugal

This decline is clearly visible in Lisbon today. As is the result of the recent financial crash which has massively impacted on Portuguese society, disproportionately affecting young people, thousands of whom have voted with their feet. It may never see the Golden Age again, but the vibrancy of that time seems to pervade modern Lisbon. This is a global city, its world view shaped by its past but also with an eye to what looks like a bright and progressive future.

Lisbon at night, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon at night, Lisbon, Portugal

Tram at night, Lisbon, Portugal

Tram at night, Lisbon, Portugal

Walking the streets of Lisbon evokes a powerful sense of this long and extraordinary history. Walking these same streets at night under the ethereal orange glow of the city’s street lights is altogether other-worldly. It really is one of Europe’s great capitals.

Bar in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal

Bar in the Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal

Tram at night, Lisbon, Portugal

Tram at night, Lisbon, Portugal

Grafetti, Lisbon, Portugal

Grafetti, Lisbon, Portugal

Old Europe, the streets of Lisbon

One of Europe’s most ancient cities, Lisbon’s relaxed charm and cultural vibrancy have made it one of the continent’s go-to destinations of recent times. It wasn’t so long ago that Lisbon was considered to be a ‘hidden gem’ or ‘off he beaten path’, not so these days. The path is well and truly beaten, and with good reason. This City of Seven Hills has a history stretching back 2,500 years and a contemporary culture that enraptures visitors from all over the world.

View over Lisbon towards 25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon, Portugal

View over Lisbon towards 25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon, Portugal

View over Lisbon towards Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon, Portugal

View over Lisbon towards Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon, Portugal

View over Lisbon towards the Santa Justa Elevator, Lisbon, Portugal

View over Lisbon towards the Santa Justa Elevator, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon straddles the River Tejo (or Tagus depending on who your speak to). At 1038km the Tejo is the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula, in Lisbon it meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is a dramatic setting. Witnessed from the top of the 12th Century Castelo de São Jorge, or one of Lisbon’s many vantage points, on a day when the sun sparkles on the water it is truly magnificent.

This is a city where expectations are regularly exceeded. There is something deeply moving about wandering Lisbon’s ancient streets and alleyways. If you happen to be walking down the street in one of Lisbon’s old working class barrios and are fortunate enough to hear Fado drifting out from a neighbourhood bar, you feel transported back in time.

View over Lisbon, Portugal

View over Lisbon, Portugal

Streets in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Streets in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Streets in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Streets in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Fado is considered by UNESCO as global ‘intangible cultural heritage’, something anyone who has heard the haunting melodies of the divine Mariza will instantly appreciate. Although born in Portuguese-controlled Mozambique, one of Portugal’s favourite musical daughters was raised in the narrow streets of Mouraria and Alfama. Walking those twisting, turning streets today you can still feel the tightly knit nature of this former working class fishing community. History seems to seep out of the walls.

Fado tiles in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Fado tiles in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Fado tiles in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Fado tiles in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Streets in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Streets in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

The Alfama district is Lisbon’s oldest quarter, and the past seems to shroud the narrow streets. The name derives from the Arabic Al-hamma, meaning ‘hot baths’ or ‘hot springs’. Knowing this makes sense of the medina-like labyrinth of streets that sprawl up and down the hillside. Another memory of the Moorish occupation is the glazed tiles that you see on many buildings in this area; the tiles were the invention of Arabic culture.

Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, Portugal

Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, Portugal

Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, Portugal

Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, Portugal

Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, Portugal

Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, Portugal

Gone are the mosques that once formed part of Moorish Portugal and an intimate part of these streets. In their place are numerous elaborate and highly decorated churches, including the Church of Santa Engrácia, which has been turned into the National Pantheon where many of Portugal’s most famous are buried. The nearby Monastery of São Vicente de Fora is equally stunning, equally enormous.

Yellow tram, Lisbon, Portugal

Yellow tram, Lisbon, Portugal

Yellow tram, Lisbon, Portugal

Yellow tram, Lisbon, Portugal

Window with flowers in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Window with flowers in the Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

We only had a short time in Lisbon, but it is a smallish city that lends itself to easy exploration – although those seven hills take a toll after a while. Whether you’re on foot or hopping on and off the iconic yellow trams, with two or three days to spare you can cover quite a lot. Two or three days is also just enough to make you realise that the city has much, much more to offer.

Cycling the North Sea Coast (III)

The difference a week makes.

August moved effortlessly into September and the hoards of tourists who had been inhabiting the North Sea Coast of the Netherlands suddenly, without fanfare, vanished. One day the cycle tracks, beaches and beach-side bars were buzzing with activity along this coastline, the next an eerie quietness descended. Where did everyone go? Alien abduction? Where is Sherlock Holmes when you need a ginormous know-it-all?

Sand dunes en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Sand dunes en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Sand dunes en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Sand dunes en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Not that I’m complaining, fewer people is rarely a bad thing when you’re trying to enjoy nature. This is my first summer in the Netherlands so everything is still a little new. I hadn’t realised that such wondrous beaches existed in Northern Europe, let alone that hundreds of thousands of people would make their way here from across Europe to enjoy them.

Now though, the long decline into autumn and winter has begun; like birds heading south the North Sea’s summer visitors have migrated. The cycle tracks and beaches on the coast between The Hague and Haarlem to the north are much quieter; the beach-side bars that were host to a party crowd are closing, deconstructed and packed away until next year. Once again the coast is the preserve of local cyclists and dog walkers.

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Razor clam shells on a North Sea beach, Netherlands

Razor clam shells on a North Sea beach, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

I picked up my earlier route at Noordwijk and cycled towards Zandvoort on the coast, then inland to the city of Haarlem. The journey is, to say the least, picturesque. Passing through kilometre after kilometre of rolling sand dunes, I occasionally stopped to walk over the dunes onto wide sandy beaches with hardly any people on them. I imagine in winter, with a gale blowing, these beaches will be inhospitable places. On a sunny September day, they are glorious.

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Jellyfish on a North Sea beach, Netherlands

Jellyfish on a North Sea beach, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Arriving in Zandvoort is something of an anticlimax after the beauty of the journey. This is as close as the Netherlands gets to imitating the horrors of Torremolinos in the 1980s. At the height of the tourist season the beach can look like a seal colony, with thousands of people packed close together. Then there is the architecture.

There is a near universal truth that architects seem to lose their reason and sense of aesthetics when given the job of building by the sea. Almost every seaside town I’ve ever visited has been home to some of the most bizarre and fearfully ugly architecture known to humankind. My general theory is that architects, inspired by the liberating views of the ocean, do their drawing blindfolded. Zandvoort has not escaped this fate.

Sand dunes en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Sand dunes en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on the North Sea Coast, Netherlands

This isn’t entirely Zandvoort’s own fault. During World War II this area was considered strategically important, so the German Army built a series of fortifications here as part of the Atlantic Wall sea defences. To do so they first levelled around three kilometres of the town along the waterfront. Zandvoort had once been an upmarket resort with grand hotels and a wealth of beautiful buildings. By the time the German Army had finished, it had been devastated.

Sand dunes en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Sand dunes en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Crossing from South Holland into North Holand en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Crossing from South Holland into North Holand en route to Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

The beach at Zandvoort, Netherlands

The beach at Zandvoort, Netherlands

Amidst the general destruction of Zandvoort, the most iconic moment came when the the town’s ornate water tower was blown up. There is a grainy black and white photo capturing this moment on the town’s official website. Leaving Zandvoort behind I headed inland towards my final destination, Haarlem, which, as Harlem, has given its name famously to part of New York and numerous other places.

Snowman in summer, between Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Snowman in summer, between Zandvoort and Haarlem, Netherlands

Haarlem train station, Netherlands

Haarlem train station, Netherlands

I often sing the praises of the Dutch cycling system, but the journey into the centre of Haarlem was poorly signposted and once in the town I did several circuits trying to find the train station. This at least gave me the opportunity to see quite a lot of this historic town, whetting my appetite to return and explore more thoroughly.

“Which would your men rather be, tired, or dead?” Echoes of Europe’s terrible past

When German Field Marshal Erwin ‘Desert Fox’ Rommel arrived on the Western front in 1944, he believed he had only months before the Allied invasion of Western Europe. Unsurprising then that he was dismayed by the failure of his predecessors to complete the Atlantic Wall defences which were supposed to repel the D-Day landings. He immediately set about building this giant defensive line along the coast from Norway to Spain.

The Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

The Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

The Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

The Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

He is reputed to have said to a subordinate tasked with the construction, “Which would your men rather be, tired, or dead?” Rommel’s forces faced insurmountable odds and he threw huge reserves of man power, much of it slave labour, and millions of tonnes of concrete and steel into the construction of the Atlantic Wall. The result was a vast string of defences running for thousands of kilometres.

The Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

The Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Anti aircraft gun, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Anti aircraft gun, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Gun, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Gun, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Most people thought France – Calais or Normandy – the likeliest D-Day landing site, but this coast is long and inviting to invaders (just ask the Vikings). Today the echoes of those feverish days in 1944/45 are still evident; Rommel’s defences are still seen all along the North Sea Coast. Some of the fortifications are preserved and open to the public, others cold, grey and silent reminders of Europe’s terrible history.

Cycling south I passed several well preserved sections of the Atlantic Wall, especially around the Hook of Holland. This entrance to the Rhine and gateway to the vital port and rail junction at Rotterdam was a major strategic asset; the German High Command were determined to defend it and prepared themselves accordingly.

Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Corridor in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Corridor in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

The major feature of the Atlantic Wall on this bit of coast is Fort 1881, as the name suggests built in 1881 following the Franco-Prussian War. In 1940 it was garrisoned by the Dutch Army and fell to the German advance across Western Europe. Germany held it until the British Army liberated the Hook of Holland in 1945. In 1940 the Dutch Government held its final cabinet meeting in the fort before the Dutch surrender. This strip of coast has seen momentous events.

Mannequin on the toilet! Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Mannequin on the toilet! Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Newspapers, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Newspapers, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Mannequin in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Mannequin in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Inside the fort two things are apparent: it is deceptively large (I must have walked a mile and a half); and it would be easy to get lost were it not for the numbered arrows pointing you in the right direction. Even then it’s easy to feel lost: at one stage I hadn’t seen or heard another person for quite a while and began to wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn never to be seen again. The silence was deafening. I wouldn’t want to spend a night locked in here.

Mannequins, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Mannequins, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Old sign in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Old sign in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Graffeti in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Graffeti in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Deep underground the air has a damp, dank smell and taste; it is humid and unpleasant. The endless silence is spooky, only occasionally broken by the sound of running water. When you’re underground that isn’t a sound that instils a sense of wellbeing. I started climbing up a set of steep stairs, eventually arriving with beads of sweat forming on my brow in the domed gun emplacement three or four stories up.

Mannequin in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Mannequin in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Corridor in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Corridor in Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Parts of the fort are as they were in 1970 when it was finally abandoned; other parts have interesting (occasionally bizarre) displays involving some unconvincing mannequins. When I say ‘bizarre’ my benchmark for this is a group of mannequins in the surgery. There is no legitimate reason why the person being operated on should have his genitals exposed. There is even less reason for a Harry Potter look-a-like mannequin to be holding a pair of tweezers over said genitals.

Mannequins, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Mannequins, Fort 1881, Atlantic Wall at Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Unfortunately, and for the Netherlands unusually, the museum is only labelled in Dutch. This is probably down to resources, this piece of European history is only open and accessible thanks to volunteers – even then it is only open for a couple of hours each day.

It was enormous fun and I can heartily recommend a visit; although the claustrophobic corridors and rooms won’t be for everyone. If you want to know more the website is www.forthvh.nl (only in Dutch).

Cycling the North Sea Coast (II)

The weather in The Hague, and all along the North Sea coastline that stretches to the north and south, can change in the blink of an eye. I’ve often looked out of the front window of my apartment and the weather is blue skies and sunshine; meanwhile, a peek out of the back window reveals dark and foreboding rain clouds. Its not so much that you can have four seasons in one day; more that you can have four seasons several times a day.

Run aground ship at the start of the cycle route leaving The Hague, Netherlands

Run aground ship at the start of the cycle route leaving The Hague, Netherlands

Beach near The Hague, Netherlands

Beach near The Hague, Netherlands

Beach mural, The Hague, Netherlands

Beach mural, The Hague, Netherlands

When the weather is changeable (when isn’t it?), timing and a slice of luck are all important to stay dry should you step outdoors. This was illustrated for me on my recent cycle south along the North Sea Coast to the Hook of Holland or Hoek van Holland (Dutch often seems like badly spelled English). The Hook is the spot where the mighty River Rhine emerges from deep inside Europe’s interior and empties into the ocean.

Beach on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Kite surfers on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Kite surfers on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

I set off in windy but sunny conditions. It only takes an hour to reach the Hook of Holland, but riding high on the dunes path into a stiff wind with little protection is still a struggle. I kept telling myself that at least I’d have the wind at my back on the return journey, little knowing that I’d also be racing a tempestuous storm in a desperate bid to avoid a soaking. Amazing how motivational massive rain clouds prove to be.

Kite surfers on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Kite surfers on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Beach on North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Cycle route and lighthouse, Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Cycle route and lighthouse, Hook of Holland, Netherlands

The journey down this stretch of coast is wonderful. Often you can cycle along the tops of the dunes with views over the beach and North Sea. While the journey takes you through beautiful sand dunes, the view to the south is dominated by the silhouette of the vast industrial complex at the massive port on the Hook of Holland. Giant cranes and wind turbines tower over the landscape like a metal forest; huge cargo ships can be seen from miles away.

Ships at the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Ships at the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

On the beach close to The Hague there are plenty of people walking, sailing and kite surfing. Further away from urban centres the people thin out and often the beach is empty but for the crashing waves and wailing seagulls. All the while I travelled along basking in the sun, but could see trouble brewing out to sea.

Despite being one of the most densely populated areas in Europe, once outside the city limits you can find yourself alone for longish periods of time. This is a car free route, but when you think it’s just you and the seagulls a party of enthusiastic and swift moving Dutch cyclists will inevitably hove into view. They do love to cycle in these parts.

Ships at the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Ships at the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Ships at the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Ships at the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

At the Hook of Holland itself you can stand on a white sand beach and watch enormous container ships sail out into the ocean bound for distant parts of the globe. It’s a mesmerising experience, one I enjoyed in the company of several dozen other people. The number and size of the ships coming and going along this section of river is amazing; sail a little further up river and you arrive in Rotterdam, still one of the world’s largest and busiest ports.

Beach and North Sea at the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Beach and North Sea at the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Cycle route and weather returning from the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Cycle route and weather returning from the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

I cycled a little further along and discovered a series ofWorld War II military installations. This was an important area to defend for the occupying German forces, and the vast Atlantic Wall defensive fortifications that stretched from Norway to Spain are visible here. I was lucky that many of the fortifications were open to visit…but more of that next time.

Cycle route and weather returning from the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Cycle route and weather returning from the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Cycle route and weather returning from the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Cycle route and weather returning from the Hook of Holland, Netherlands

Deciding that the weather was going to become rough I set off back to The Hague. When I stopped to look backwards it was barely credible that I would remain dry. Terrifyingly large rain clouds loomed, while up ahead I could see the sun illuminating the golden sand of the beach and sand dunes. I cycled in a netherworld between the two and managed to reach home just before a tremendous storm hit. The rain was bouncing off the streets.

I made my song a coat … out of old mythologies

I was returning to the railway station after a successful day wandering the streets of Leiden when I noticed, painted high on a wall, William Butler Yeats’ poem, A Coat. After an afternoon exploring the ancient lanes and alleyways of this historic city the lines, “I made my song a coat, Covered with embroideries, Out of old mythologies, From heel to throat”, struck a resonant note.

Houses and canal, Leiden, Netherlands

Houses and canal, Leiden, Netherlands

SIgn for a bar, Leiden, Netherlands

SIgn for a bar, Leiden, Netherlands

Molen de Put, Leiden, Netherlands

Molen de Put, Leiden, Netherlands

Floating restaurant, Leiden, Netherlands

Floating restaurant, Leiden, Netherlands

This wasn’t the first piece of literature I’d seen painted on buildings. Perhaps fitting for a city renowned for learning, and teeming with students, there are literary quotations on walls scattered all across Leiden. It’s fun to walk around spotting Leiden’s ‘Wall Poems’, I came across five or six including poems from William Shakespeare and Syrian poet, Adonis. Enough to brighten any stroll as you explore the winding streets and broad canals.

Shakespeares Sonnet XXX on a wall in Leiden, Netherlands

Shakespeares Sonnet XXX on a wall in Leiden, Netherlands

Loss by Syrian poet Adonis on a wall in Leiden, Netherlands

Loss by Syrian poet Adonis on a wall in Leiden, Netherlands

Pop up restaurant, Leiden, Netherlands

Pop up restaurant, Leiden, Netherlands

Houses, Leiden, Netherlands

Houses, Leiden, Netherlands

Mackerel in the market, Leiden, Netherlands

Mackerel in the market, Leiden, Netherlands

Not that this city needs a lot of brightening. When I wasn’t passing down some ancient and narrow passage, probably used by pedestrians for hundreds of years, I was elbowing my way along streets crowded with people and extraordinary sights. All this activity was rewarded at the end of the day with a delicious Belgian beer in one of Leiden’s oldest bars, the Café de Bonte Koe (the Colourful Cow). If you find yourself in Leiden, don’t miss out on a visit to de Bonte Koe.

Women role playing in a shop window, Leiden, Netherlands

Women role playing in a shop window, Leiden, Netherlands

Coffee urn, Leiden, Netherlands

Coffee urn, Leiden, Netherlands

Mackerel in the market, Leiden, Netherlands

Mackerel in the market, Leiden, Netherlands

Music maker, Leiden, Netherlands

Music maker, Leiden, Netherlands

Whether it was the three people sat in a shop window playing out an 18th Century tea party (quite an odd sight); golden mackerel in the local market; crowds of people passing a warm day on a floating restaurant on one of the many canals; or an old music box on wheels playing a tune on a street corner, Leiden seemed to be going out of its way to entertain.

Stained glass window in Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Stained glass window in Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Old doorway, Leiden, Netherlands

Old doorway, Leiden, Netherlands

Bunting and bikes, Leiden, Netherlands

Bunting and bikes, Leiden, Netherlands

Yeats's poem high on a wall, Leiden, Netherlands

Yeats’s poem high on a wall, Leiden, Netherlands

“But now we are all, in all places, strangers and pilgrims, travellers and sojourners”

The City of Leiden has seen turbulent times and been a place of refuge for those fleeing turbulence. No more so than at the turn of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Wars were constantly raging across Europe; many driven by dynastic ambition, but many driven by religion. The established Catholic hegemony was being overturned by the Reformation sparked by Martin Luther, John Calvin and many other Protestant ‘Reformers’ in the early 16th Century. The predictable result was war and persecution.

St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers, St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers, St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

When Luther nailed The Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg in 1517, it marked the start of a new and bloody era of religious conflict. What Luther, Calvin and the English Puritans who turned up in Leiden seeking refuge wouldn’t have suspected was that, one day, one of their churches would house a funfair and a photographic exhibition featuring nudity. I looked but couldn’t find any money lenders.

St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Funfair in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Funfair in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Leiden’s St.Pieterskerk is best known today as the church of the Pilgrim Fathers. In the area around it John Robinson’s group of English Puritans settled before they left Europe to found Plymouth Colony and establish New England. Robinson never made the trip to Massachusetts, he died in Leiden and is buried in St. Pieterskerk. I’m sure he’d be appalled that the church he knew so well was deconsecrated in the 1970s.

What he would have thought of the funfair we’ll never know. I suspect he’d have been secretly delighted. I was.

Memorial to John Robinson, St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Memorial to John Robinson, St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Medieval hopscotch? St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Medieval hopscotch? St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

The connection between the Protestant nations and their religious and colonial history is everywhere in Leiden. The city became a hotbed of religious debate and was a tolerant sanctuary for Protestants fleeing persecution: the Huguenots from France, Puritans from England. Both nations were influential in the early development of European colonialisation in North America: New Netherlands and New England; New Amsterdam became New York.

It was to Leiden in 1609 that around 300 English religious dissidents fled hoping to live free from religious persecution. England was a Protestant country but many Puritans believed the Church of England, under the control of the monarch, had not been sufficiently reformed of its Catholic tendencies.

Organ in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Organ in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Grave in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Grave in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

The English Church and Crown viewed these religious fundamentalists as a threat to the peace and stability. They had a point: England was a country coming to terms with a period of bitter religious persecution and bloodshed, and facing the very real threat of invasion and destruction from Catholic Spain.

Fearing the Spanish, the superpower of the age, England and the Netherlands regularly found common cause to protect their religion and sovereignty. They also regularly attacked Spanish ships returning from the Americas laden with stolen Inca, Maya and Aztec gold. While Spain sought to suppress Protestantism, it was also protecting its ‘trade’ with the Americas. A right granted to Spain by the Pope, an authority neither England or the Netherlands recognised.

Grave stone in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Grave stone in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Grave in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

Grave in St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

From Robinson’s Puritans were drawn the Pilgrim Fathers who in 1620 sailed via England to found Plymouth Colony.

What is so extraordinary about this group of people is just how influential their gene pool has been throughout American history. Four US Presidents can claim their lineage to this group of English religious dissidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt, George Bush Sr., George Bush Jr. and current President, Barack Obama. More disturbing than this, much, much more disturbing, is the fact that Presidents Bush Sr. and Jr. share the same common ancestor as President Barack Obama.

St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

These three Presidents trace their lineage to an English family, the Blossoms, originally from Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire. Thomas Blossom and his wife Anne settled in Leiden in 1609; they left for the New World from Delfshaven in 1620 on the Speedwell which was to join the Mayflower in Plymouth, England before sailing onwards. The Speedwell proved unseaworthy and the Blossoms were forced back to Leiden. They finally made it to New England in 1629 – luckily for at least three American Presidents.

Seriously America. Three Presidents related to a bloke from Cambridgeshire. It’s just not right. Sort it out…and someone double-check that Hilary isn’t also related.

Siege, famine and a wealth of history in beautiful Leiden

Leiden’s history is all incident and intrigue. Ancient battles were fought here, legendary thinkers and artists lived here, it was a global centre of trade, and the ghosts of Pilgrim Fathers and religious refugees still haunt the streets. History only tells you so much about a place though, and Leiden is so much more than just its dramatic history.

Oude Vest, Leiden, Netherlands

Oude Vest, Leiden, Netherlands

Catholic Church, Leiden, Netherlands

Catholic Church, Leiden, Netherlands

I had no expectation of Leiden when I got off the train at the city’s modern railway station, but it’s a beautiful, vibrant place with a selection of great bars and restaurants, museums and galleries. Well worth exploring and re-exploring (I’ve been back three times already). Walking south-east you quickly find yourself among ancient alleyways, crisscrossed by canals and overshadowed by three- and four-storey traditional buildings.

Leiden is quintessentially Dutch, with a grandeur close to matching Amsterdam. Which makes it all the more remarkable that it is largely a tourist free zone. Compensating for the lack of bewildered, map carrying day trippers doing battle with irritated cyclists, the streets are instead a haunt for the city’s students. Leiden has a population of around 120,000, of which 20,000 are students…every fifth person you see is a student. That must be some sort of record?

Houses overlooking the Oude Rijn, Leiden, Netherlands

Houses overlooking the Oude Rijn, Leiden, Netherlands

Cyclist, Leiden, Netherlands

Cyclist, Leiden, Netherlands

Molen de Put, Leiden, Netherlands

Molen de Put, Leiden, Netherlands

Apart from cluttering up the place, especially on a Saturday afternoon in summer, the students give Leiden a youthful vibe that makes it stand out from most other places I’ve visited in the Netherlands. Away from the main drag though, wandering narrow cobbled streets, you could think yourself transported back in time.

House on the Oude Vest, Leiden, Netherlands

House on the Oude Vest, Leiden, Netherlands

Canal and the University of Leiden building, Leiden, Netherlands

Canal and the University of Leiden building, Leiden, Netherlands

Boats and canal, Leiden, Netherlands

Boats and canal, Leiden, Netherlands

Leiden can lay claim to many things, but it is the university that defines it. Founded in 1575, the oldest in the Netherlands, over the centuries it has been home to some of Europe’s most important thinkers, including sixteen Nobel Prize winners. René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Hugo Grotius (founder of international law), Albert Einstein and a cohort of renowned Physicists, including Paul Ehrenfest and Enrico Fermi, all attend this ancient institution. Even John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States, was here.

Narrow house, Leiden, Netherlands

Narrow house, Leiden, Netherlands

Wonky door, Leiden, Netherlands

Wonky door, Leiden, Netherlands

The stellar gallery of alumni isn’t the most extraordinary thing about Leiden University though. That honour goes to the way it came to be founded. The university was given to Leiden as a reward for withstanding a brutal and bitter siege and famine during the Dutch struggle for independence from the Spanish. Europe didn’t do wars by halves in the 16th Century; Leiden’s siege was one of many that took place during the 80 Years War.

The Self-Sacrifice of Mayor Pieter van den Werf by Matthijs van Bree, 1817

The Self-Sacrifice of Mayor Pieter van den Werf by Matthijs van Bree, 1817

The Self-Sacrifice of Mayor Pieter van den Werf by Matthijs van Bree, 1817

The Self-Sacrifice of Mayor Pieter van den Werf by Matthijs van Bree, 1817

The Siege of Leiden began in October 1573 and, although it was lifted briefly in April 1574, only ended in October 1575. A level of suffering had been inflicted upon the population that defeats description. After months of siege with little or no food, conditions in the city were squalid verging on the pestilential. Thousands died as relief ships battled both the Spanish and the dykes of the surrounding countryside. The population clamoured for surrender.

Liberty - Plague and Famine During the Siege of Leiden by Erwin Olaf, 2011

Liberty – Plague and Famine During the Siege of Leiden by Erwin Olaf, 2011

A turning point, immortalised in Dutch art and literature, came when the Mayor of Leiden offered his own flesh as food for the population. In reality, fear of the Spanish probably prevented most from surrendering. Only months earlier the Spanish had slaughtered the population of Naarden as a warning to the rebellious Dutch. The same fate would almost certainly have awaited the good people of Leiden.

St. Pancraskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

St. Pancraskerk, Leiden, Netherlands

These were turbulent times. The new Protestant religion was viewed as heresy by the Catholic Church, which resolved to eradicate it. The French and Spanish did their best to oblige, but the lifting of the Siege of Leiden was a defining moment in the long slow decline in Spanish power. This defeat against the Calvinist Dutch proved to be permanent; confirmed a few years later when, in 1588, the Spanish Armada was destroyed by Protestant England. Europe’s religion and centres of power were changing.

Food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Cheese at the food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Cheese at the food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Walking these streets today, Leiden’s history is writ large and you’re confronted with it at almost every turn. After all this is the birthplace of Rembrandt and is a city that attracted the most famous artists of the Dutch Golden Age. It is also where the first tulip to be seen in the Netherlands was cultivated and grown. An event which sparked a global craze for the flower, which traded for prices above that of gold and silver, and which would come to be one of the most recognisable symbols of Dutchness.

Food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Morcilla sandwich at the food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Morcilla sandwich at the food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Tapas at the food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Tapas at the food market, Leiden, Netherlands

Don’t think of Leiden as a living museum though, it has a visible and youthful pulse. The many street-side cafes and floating restaurants are crowded with people on a Saturday. There is a thriving traditional food market, and I was lucky enough to wander into a gastro-food market in a square near the Pieterskerk. Seriously good food was on offer. I’ll definitely be visiting again.

The Fijnschilder of Leiden, art from the Golden Age

Amidst a selection of 15th and 16th Century religious art, Lucas van Leyden’s The Final Judgement is a charming piece to start a tour of Leiden’s Lakenhal museum. Completed in 1526-7, this ghastly allegorical triptych is full of terrified people being brutalised by all of Hell’s demons on Judgement Day. To get the full effect, you have to imagine the painting being opened to an unsuspecting audience to reveal it’s terrifying interior.

Off to one side the saved (some of whom are definitely looking a bit smug) are being herded away from scenes of carnage. The damned are being dragged kicking and screaming by diabolical creatures into the fiery pits of Hell – or in this case what looks like a huge fish/dog hybrid. They didn’t lack for overactive imaginations in the 16th Century.

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

One thing is certain, religious art of this nature was intended to induce terror in a largely uneducated, superstitious and already fearful population. I imagine it succeeded. In a world without science to explain natural phenomena the supernatural was very real in people’s minds. It hardly seems fair of religious authorities to terrorise people with the art of damnation as well. Ironically, come the Reformation, these Catholic paintings themselves had to be saved from Protestant iconoclasts.

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Cheeky! The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Final Judgement by Lucas van Leyden, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Crucifixion by Cornelis Engebrechtsz, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Crucifixion by Cornelis Engebrechtsz, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Lamentation of Christ by Cornelis Engebrechtsz, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Lamentation of Christ by Cornelis Engebrechtsz, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Lakenhal is home to Leiden’s finest art collection, and the building itself has to be included as one of the artworks. Formerly the Cloth Hall where Leiden’s world famous (in the 17th Century) textiles were inspected and valued, it opened in 1640 and became a museum just over 200 years later. It now houses a wonderful selection of art from the Dutch Golden Age, including works from Leiden’s 17th Century Fijnschilder school of fine artists.

Old Woman Reading a Book by Jan Lievans, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Old Woman Reading a Book by Jan Lievans, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Luxurious Still Life by Pieter de Ring, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Luxurious Still Life by Pieter de Ring, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

During the Dutch Golden Age the arts flourished. Under the patronage of wealthy merchants and noblemen, Leiden nurtured the talents of Rembrandt van Rijn (or Rembrandt as we know him). Here Rembrandt worked alongside other influential artists like Jan Lievens and Jan van Goyen, although all three were to leave the city in the 1630s due to political unrest. Art and politics intertwined as ever.

They were to be replaced by the Fijnschilders led by Gerrit Dou, who had studied under Rembrandt before evolving his own distinctive style. He painted small scenes from daily life, rendered in fine brush strokes and extraordinary detail to produce a very smooth finish.

Herring Seller and Boy, by Gerrit Dou, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Herring Seller and Boy, by Gerrit Dou, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Housemaid with Oil Lamp by Gerrit Dou, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Housemaid by Gerrit Dou, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

What is fascinating about many of these paintings is how risque they are; some are bawdy and some explicitly sexual. Not what you’d expect from a staunchly Calvinist bunch. I particularly like Jan Steen’s works; his paintings depict scenes from daily life that are full of intrigue and fun. Not one to shy away from the sexual, his The Indecent Proposal is loaded with sexual meaning, featuring a provocative baguette and a large cleavage.

The Quack by Jan Steen, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Quack by Jan Steen, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Merry Couple by Jan Steen, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Merry Couple by Jan Steen, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Inappropriate Proposal by Jan Steen, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Inappropriate Proposal by Jan Steen, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

Given Rembrandt’s association with Leiden – he was born and lived here – the museum doesn’t have many of his paintings. The Lakenhal only came into possession of its first Rembrandt in 2012. Today, two works are ascribed definitively to him: one a historical piece in which he painted himself into the background; the other, the wonderful Brillenverkoper (The Spectacles Seller). This small painting is Rembrandt’s earliest known work, and is full of colour and humour.

The Spectacles Seller by Rembrandt, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Spectacles Seller by Rembrandt, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Robbed Violinist by Jan Steen, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The Robbed Violinist by Jan Steen, Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands

The concentration of artistic talent in Leiden during the 17th Century didn’t come about by chance. The flourishing of the arts coincided with Leiden’s economic expansion and population growth. It became a boom town for the cloth trade and grew to be the most important and modern textile centre in Europe. Leiden became a byword for the highest quality fabrics across the ‘known’ world.

Spinning, Shaving the Chain and Weaving by Isaac Claesz. of Swanenburg, Lakenhal, Leiden

Spinning, Shaving the Chain and Weaving by Isaac Claesz. of Swanenburg, Lakenhal, Leiden

The Ploten and Combs by Isaac Claesz. of Swanenburg, Lakenhal, Leiden

The Ploten and Combs by Isaac Claesz. of Swanenburg, Lakenhal, Leiden

In the Lakenhal cloth was inspected for its quality and consistency, something critical to cementing Leiden’s textile reputation. Leiden cloth was known both in the Americas and in China, and the artistry and skill of Leiden’s weavers was in as much demand as that of its painters. No surprise that the two overlapped, the Lakenhal has several wonderful paintings depicting the cloth trade.

To learn more about the Lakenhall Museum and its collection visit lakenhal.nl/en