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's Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) Travel Guide

Paleiskwartier - Armada, Den Bosch (photo by Cro-Cop2 - Creative Commons Licence)

Introduction

's-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc in French, Herzogenbusch in German, Bolduque in Spanish ; pop. 135,000) is the capital of the province of North Brabant. The city's name is a contraction of the Dutch des Hertogen bosch, meaning "the Duke's forest". It is colloquially known as Den Bosch (pronounced "Den Boss"). It owes its name to Henry I of Brabant (1165-1235), first the Duke of Brabant, who possessed a large estate in nearby Orthen, and founded the city of 's-Hertogenbosch in 1185.

History

Founded by charter in 1185, 's Hertogenbosch was intended to protect the interest of the Duke of Brabant against the Counties of Guelders and Holland. The city was therefore conceived as a fortress town from the very beginning. Destroyed in 1203, it was promptly rebuilt. The city walls were enlarged in 1475 to encompass a wider area. Artificial waterways were dug to serve as a city moat, through which the rivers Dommel and Aa were diverted.

The city grew to become the second largest in the present-day Netherlands (after Utrecht) at the begining of the 16th century. It is during this prosperous period that one of the city's most famous son was born: Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), also known as "El Bosco" in Spanish, who was one of the greatest Renaissance painter in Northern Europe.

's Hertogenbosch would become the seat of an independent bishopric in 1559. However, the ideas of the Reformation spread through the Low Countries, and brought war between the Habsburgian rulers and the increasingly Protestant population. Under the reign of King Philip II of Spain (ruled from 1556 to 1598) a revolt started in the Spanish Netherlands, which would lead to the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648).

's Hertogenbosch first sided with the Habsburg authorities and even thwarted a Calvinist coup. The city was then besieged several times by the army of the United Provinces, under the command of Prince Maurice of Orange-Nassau (1567-1625). Heavily fortified and surrounded by vast marshes, Den Bosch was impregnable and earned the nickname of "Marsh Dragon".

Frederick Henry of Nassau (1584-1647) succeeded to his elder brother of Maurice as Prince of Orange in 1625, and carried on attempts to capture the Catholic city of 's Hertogenbosch. He diverted the rivers Dommel and Aa, created a polder by constructing a forty kilometre dyke and then pumped out the water by mills. After a 3-month siege, the city was forced to surrender. The area was treated by the Republic as an occupation zone without political liberties.

In 1672, the so called rampjaar ("disaster year") for the young Dutch Republic, saw the United Provinces attacked by England, France, Münster and Cologne, but the city held against the army of Louis XIV.

Afterwards, the city's history is basically linked to that of the Netherlands. Taken by the French Revolutionaries in 1794, it would remain part of France until 1814. In 1815 the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created with neighbouring Belgium, which split in 1830.

Until 1878, the conservative city government prohibited to build outside the ramparts, which led to overcrowding and the highest infant mortality in the kingdom. They also prevented industrial investment and even the establishment of educational institutions, so as to keep the number of potential disruptive citizens (workers and students) low. This policy could only result in decreasing the importance of the city in the long run.

Den Bosch survived the Second World War relatively unscathed. Despite its annexation to the United Provinces over 300 years ago, the city and the province of North Brabant have remained predominantly Catholic.


Attractions

St. John's Cathedral

St. John's Cathedral, 's Hertogenbosch The city's main sight is St. John's Cathedral (Sint-Janskathedraal), one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in the Netherlands. It was originally built as a Romaneque-style parish church between 1220 and 1340. A new transept and choir were constructed in Gothic style from 1340 to 1450. In 1505, the original Romanesque church was demolished (apart from the clock tower) and the Gothic edifice was completed in 1525.

A fire destoyed the roof and clocktower in 1584. Another fire damaged the cathedral in 1830, but everything was repaired by 1842. The building has undergone three major renovations from 1859 to this day.

The interior of the cathedral was stripped of its ostentatious Catholic decoration by the Protestants from 1629. It is still worth a look for its organ, built by Heyeman in 1617-1621, and considered to be one of the most beautiful in the country.

Other sights

Contemporary architecture, Den Bosch (© Lya_Cattel | iStockphoto.com)

's Hertogenbosch was first and foremost a fortified city, and the ramparts have been preserved (for keeping out the water from the moat) almost intact on most of their length. The southern side of the wall borders on an old polder (converted into a nature reserve) stretching all the way to the next town of Vught. Many other fortresses still stand around the city.

's Hertogenbosch can also boast to have the oldest brick house in the Netherlands (the 13th-century de Moriaan), and one of the only two powder arsenals left in the country (the hexagonal Kruithuis, in the north of the old city).

Like every medieval city in the Low Countries, Den Bosch has its market square, where stands the town hall (stadhuis), built in 17th-century classical Dutch style.


How to get there

's Hertogenbosch is located on the E25 motorway to/from Amsterdam (85km), Utrecht (55km), Maastricht (130km), Liège (155km), and Luxembourg (330km). The A59 between Breda (50km) and Nijmegen (50km) circumnavigavte the city from east to west. The short N65 links it to Tilburg (30km). Coming from Brussels (150km) or Antwerp (100km) take the E19 to Breda, then the A59.

There are frequent direct trains to/from Amsterdam (1h), Utrecht (30min), Breda (30min), Tilburg (15min), Nijmgen (30min), Eindhoven (20min), and Maastricht (1h30min). Trains from/to Rotterdam (1h15min) pass through Utrecht. Trains from Brussels (2h30min) or Antwerp (1h40min) require a change at Roosendaal.

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