‘s-Hertogenbosch, the hardest place name in the Netherlands

I find Dutch incredibly difficult to pronounce. Even though it shares a common root with English – some words are exactly the same in Dutch and English – the pronunciation frequently leaves me baffled. Although I’ve been learning numbers thanks to my neighbour’s daughter, who chalked them on the steps leading to my apartment, Dutch is seemingly beyond my grasp.

I think the Dutch acknowledge this, even if they might not admit to it. Otherwise why would the virtually unpronounceable ‘s-Hertogenbosch be more commonly know as Den Bosch? Even I can pronounce Den Bosch. ‘s-Hertogenbosch literally means Duke’s Forest, and there was once a castle and forest here, and presumably a Duke.

Den Bosch station, Netherlands

Den Bosch station, Netherlands

Dragon statue, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Dragon statue, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

We visited Den Bosch to go to the truly fabulous Hieronymous Bosch exhibition, organised to celebrate the 500th anniversary Bosch’s death. One of my colleagues mentioned that Den Bosch was a lovely town, with a unique canal system that goes underneath the town’s buildings. He recommended spending a bit more time there. I’m glad we did, it’s a fabulous place in a part of the country that attracts few tourists.

Even if there hadn’t been an internationally renowned exhibition of the town’s most famous son, Den Bosch would have been worth a visit. The centrepiece of the town is the fantastic medieval marketplace, a vast open space surrounded by traditional Dutch buildings and outdoor cafes. This is where Hieronymous Bosch lived as a child, and where he had a studio in later life.

Canals, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Canals, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Canals, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Canals, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Visible above the rooftops, and just a short walk away, the grandiose Gothic Sint-Janskathedraal towers over the town and sits on a large open square. A church was built here in the early 13th century, but was knocked down to make way for the cathedral, which would only be completed in 1530. Dying in 1516, Bosch never got to see it completed, although it was under construction the entirety of his life.

The cathedral has magnificent stained glass windows, something of a rarity in the Netherlands. A €48 million renovation of the building was completed in 2010, as part of the work 25 new angel statues were created, including one wearing jeans and using a mobile phone. Scaffolding has been constructed creating a tour of the exterior, on which you can see the new angels. Sadly it was fully booked.

Sint-Janskathedraal, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Sint-Janskathedraal, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Sint-Janskathedraal, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Sint-Janskathedraal, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Sint-Janskathedraal, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Sint-Janskathedraal, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Sint-Janskathedraal, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Sint-Janskathedraal, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Perhaps the nicest thing about Den Bosch is just wandering its narrow cobbled streets alongside its picturesque canals. It’s an atmospheric place. The canals are unusual, rather than winding their way alongside buildings like elsewhere in the Netherlands, they go underneath them. There is a boat tour of the canals lasting around 90 minutes, which was too long for us on this visit but will provide a reason to go back…possibly for the Bosch Parade in June.

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Den Bosch, Netherlands

Statue, Den Bosch, Netherlands

Statue, Den Bosch, Netherlands

12 thoughts on “‘s-Hertogenbosch, the hardest place name in the Netherlands

  1. Goed post mijn heer. 🙂
    Strange that you might find Dutch hard to pronounce. Maybe it’s because it’s because it is too close to english? I, on the contrary, have little problem pronouncing it (but then I was ten at the time we lived in Holland) but I do find it difficult to write. Think about the pronunciation of “Dag mee Vrouw”. (Not actually sure it spelled right.)
    Tot ziens mijn heer.
    (You might find your stay in Bolivia useful with the J and G. I was told that the current G pronunciation in Dutch is a legacy of the Spaniards.

      • Erg goed mijn heer! That was fun. I also realized, listening to the farmer that beside pronunciation, the Dutch have a particular “sing-song”, a rhythm or prosody that makes it all the more difficult to understand. Now the fact is when you look at the ties between England and the United Provinces (think of all the dutch painters who made a career in England) the two are very close. I’m sure one could look at old houses on both sides of the sea and find resemblance. 🙂

        • It made me wonder whether learning old English would be easier or more difficult that learning Dutch. Probably a toss of a coin! The historic relationship between England and the Netherlands is strong – trade, religion (the gang from the Mayflower all lived in Leiden) and war (sometimes on each others’ side, sometimes not). That small stretch of water means a lot linguistically it seems.

        • A lot of English Puritans were hiding out in the Lowlands, before heading off to New England. They lived in Leiden but sailed from Delfthaven. A long association between the two countries.

        • Yes. One forgets. French History is troubled. Wars, civil wars, religion wars, etc. But English History has its own contingent of dark events. 😉

        • When I look at Western European history, it beggars belief how violent it has been. It’s only since 1945 that the western half hasn’t been constantly at war. I’ve finally made it back to France – the Loire region rather than Paris – but it has a fascinating history. Loved every minute we were there…particularly the food!

        • Agreed. 60 million dead in WWII left their mark. Somehow, most realized (then) that we could not go on like this. (I am getting a tad concerned that those memories are fading away) About the Loire, well, this was the centre of French civilization for a few centuries. 🙂 The castles, the land, the poetry, AND the food and wine are still there. Did you try Gamay de Touraine? 😉

        • It was my first trip to the Loire, it really is very beautiful and its history is extraordinary (for English history as well). I’m pretty sure we tried the Gamay, along with lots of others…when if Rome, and all that!

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