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Welcome to Alkmaar

The earliest known reference to Alkmaar was recorded in the 900’s. The little village grew and became wealthier through trade and agriculture, and in 1254 it was eventually granted a charter to become a city. The oldest part of Alkmaar lies on an ancient sand bank that afforded some protection from inundation during medieval times. Even so, it is only a couple of metres above the surrounding region, which consists of some of the oldest polders in existence. In the early to mid 1500’s a lake near to the city was the first lake to ever be reclaimed by having its water pumped dry by windmills.

In 1573 the city underwent a siege by Spanish forces under the leadership of Don Fadrique, son of the Duke of Alva. Alkmaar stood against the army and refused to surrender and ultimately the battle was won with the failure of the siege. This victory was considered as an important battle in the eventual breaking free from the rule of Spain.

During these times Alkmaar grew into a very important market for all of the produce of the surrounding areas and became the biggest city in the north of the Netherlands. And the market that still runs in the city is a remnant of this. It was during the 1600’s that the street map of the old town was brought into being, although much of the cities building were lost in the renovations of the 19th and 20th century. At the turn of the 19th century the city was briefly held by a combination of Russian and English forces, although they were eventually beaten in battle.

In the early 1800’s the city was given a boost to its trade when the North Holland Canal was dug. In the later part of the century the city was opened up to even more trade, by the arrival of the railways from Haarlem and Den Helder .

In the 20th century Alkmaar expanded into the city and municipality that it is now, with the expansion of both residential and industrial areas, Alkmaar absorbed the nearby towns and villages to reach the size that it is today.

Zaltbommel 1657
Alkmaar 1597
Alkmaar aerial
Alkmaar aerial

Alkmaar City Walk

The earliest written mention about Alkmaar dates back to the 10th century. The city looked quite different back then. The main street was a dirt road where farms alternated with huts where small livestock scratched about. Rubbish was thrown out on the streets and the pigs ate the leftovers. What they left behind was good for the rats and mice. So, health conditions were bad. There was no proper drinking water and illnesses and epidemics were the order of the day.

Later, livestock went to graze outside of the city walls. The city walls were surrounded by a ditch with a drawbridge which was pulled up at night, so it was important to be back within the city walls on time.

For around an hour and a half we take you past a selection of its monuments and try to impart something of the intimate atmosphere and the history of our remarkable city along the way.

1 - Weighing House 2 - Beer Museum De Boom 3 - House with the bullet 4 - House with the spades 5 - Remonstrant church 6 - Zijdeworm, Kroon and Leeuwenburg 7 - Fish market 8 - Chapel church 9 - Synagoge and Drebbel residence 10 - Almshouses of Wildeman 11 - Mill of Piet 12 - Splinter Alms Houses 13 - Old house 14 - Municipal museum of Alkmaar 15 - Maerten Pieterzoon van der Mey 16 - The big Saint Laurens church 17 - City hall 18 - Moriaanshoofd 19 - Court of Sonoy
Alkmaar map
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We start at the Waagplein.

1Weighing house

It dates back to approximately 1390 and was originally a Holy Spirit House, i.e. a guesthouse that welcomed poor travellers and sick people. The gothic windows indicate that the building used to have an ecclesiastical purpose.

In the front waterside gable the maxim 'S.P.Q.A. Restituit Virtus Ablatae Jura Bilancis', or rather: 'Courage and strength again bestowed the weighing right on the administration and citizenry of Alkmaar', can be seen. The maxim reminds one of the people of Alkmaar's successful defence against the Spaniards in 1573 for which they acquired the weighing right by way of gratitude. In 1582, after the re-acquisition of the weighing right, it was rebuilt into the Weighing House. In 1712 multiple maxims, such as 'Vive memor leti, fugit hora' (Live remembering death, time passes quickly) and 'Singulas horas Singulas vitas puta' (Consider each hour a separate life), were placed under the clock face in the tower.

A large square such as the one you can see now was out of the question in those early days. From time to time houses were demolished in order to make more room for the successful cheese market. In two hundred years' time the square was expanded no less than eight times up to the current surface area.

The Tourist Office and Dutch Cheese Museum are located in the Weighing House.

Weighing house
Weighing house
Cheese market
Cheese market
Cheese Market

Alkmaar is worldwide renowned as the cheese city and each season hundred of thousands visitors from all over the world visit it. The market is held every Friday morning from 10:00 to 13:00 o'clock as from the first Friday in March up to and including the last Friday in September.

Cheeses have been weighed in Alkmaar since 1365. The market first took place in 1622. In bygone days the cheeses were transported by boat along the canal. At 10:00 o'clock it is time for the cheese inspectors; using a hollow drill they drill a piece out of some of the cheeses which is then touched, smelled and tasted in order to determine the quality of the cheese. The price is set by hand clapping and once the deal is sealed, the cheese carriers take the shipment of cheese to the Weighing House on their barrows to be weighed.

The cheese carriers all belong to a specific warehousing company; there is, for example, the red, green, yellow and blue warehousing company, recognisable by the colour of the barrow and straw hat of the cheese carrier.

The cheese carrier guild still complies with the old traditions. For example, the leader; recognisable by his orange hat, is called 'pops' by all the cheese carriers. All cheese carriers have nicknames: the cheese carrier with the nickname 'the Executioner' meticulously tracks the cheese carriers who are late; after which they are fined. It is also prohibited to curse. It could happen that cheeses fall off the barrow when running about but instead of cursing the cheese carriers then cry out: 'Oaf!'

At the end of the square pass the drawbridge (Voordam), and then to the first street right (Dijk).

2Beer museum De Boom

The building with the wall painting across the canal houses the Beer Museum. It is established in a former 17th century brewery and there is a bar in the basement where you can choose between numerous mouth-watering beers.

Castle Torenburg

In the twelfth century Alkmaar frequently had to deal with forays by the West Frisians. William II planned to beat the West Frisians and built castle Torenburg at this exact spot at de Dijk in 1250. De Dijk used to be the entrance road to the former castle. It occupied a strategic position, precisely in the bend of the connecting road between Kennemerland and West Friesland. Some street names still remind one of this stronghold; the Kooltuin, for example, refers to the castle's vegetable garden.

Beer musem De Boom
Beer musem De Boom
Torenburg
Torenburg

Take the second street right (Kooltuin). At the end step onto the bridge.

3House with the Bullet

A brief stop on the bridge. The house with the wooden gable, over the bridge on the right, is called the House with the Bullet. In 1573, during the siege by the Spaniards, Alkmaar came under heavy fire. The story has it that a bullet dashed through the window of the house of basket-maker Jan Arendszoon and shattered a chair on which a girl was working on a spinning wheel. None of the seven people present were hurt, and the bullet was placed on the gable in memory of this little miracle.

Kooltuin
Kooltuin
House with the buller
House with the bullet

Acros the bridge turn left (Luttik Oudorp).

4House with the Spades

Over the bridge left, at number 110 across the canal, one sees a lovely building dating from 1609 with one of the most beautiful crow-stepped gables of Alkmaar. The gable stone with the baker's spades reminds us of the time when this housed the Alkmaar pastry cooks. Can you see the hoisting hook and the loading doors (now windows)? This shows that the impressive building also served as a warehouse, in this case of grain. Downstairs was decorated as a shop, with shutters on which the goods were displayed.

City Rights

During the course of the 12th century Alkmaar gradually expanded into a settlement where a lot of trade activities took place and of which the number of inhabitants steadily grew. Due to the constant forays of the West Frisians the people of Alkmaar continued feeling unsafe. In order to better protect their territory they wanted city rights, so that city walls and ditches could be constructed. In that case Alkmaar would also be entitled to hold a market and the inhabitants could establish a city council.

On 11 June 1254 a group of horsemen calmly rode in the direction of Leiden. They were rich, self-assured men on their way to the Count of Holland, William 11, to advocate city rights for Alkmaar. On this memorable day they went homewards filled with pride and could announce: "We left a town a come home to a city".

Continue on Luttik Oudorp to the next bridge. Then right into Sint Annastraat, and right again into Fnidsen.

5Remonstrant church

To your left, behind house numbers 35 to 39, is this conventicle from 1658, hidden behind the wooden archway with the wrought-iron gate with the letters R and K. Originally it was a granary. The church has a beautiful interior, with a wooden barrel vault and lofts all around. The pinewood floor is still sprinkled with fine dune sand. If you want to visit the church you can do so on Fridays during the cheese market season.

House with the spades
House with the spades
Remonstrant church
Remonstrant church
Visit of Napoleon

When Napoleon visited the conquered Netherlands in 1811, he also visited Alkmaar. At the mayor's command the streets and canals had to be decorated. A triumphal arch was placed near Kennemer Gate, however it had to be moved in great haste when it became clear the Emperor would travel through the Frisian Gate. Hours too late he finally arrived and merely stopped to change horses. Even when offered the key to the city especially manufactured for the occasion he did not leave his carriage. The clergy saw the bad-humoured Emperor pass in a flash. The next day newspaper stated, not without cynicism: "Today, about four o'clock in the afternoon, did we have the pleasure of seeing H.M. the Emperor and King pass by...".

At the end of Fnidsen turn left into Mient.

6Zijdeworm, Kroon and Leeuwenburg

We briefly stop at Mient, at the centre of the arched brick bridge at the streetlamp which is where one used to find the 'jaw', a pillory in which someone was put and exhibited as punishment. The public was free to pelt the person with rotten fruit or other things.

Can you see the houses with the beautiful gables? These are, from right to left: The Silkworm, the Crown and the Leeuwenburg. The Silkworm (1672), owned by a silk trader. The Crown dates back to the 17th century and shows a richly decorated front gable with a gable stone in which an imperial crown has been placed with next to it the city arms of Alkmaar and Hoorn. You can see two female figures: Hope (right) and Faith (left).

The Leeuwenburg was built by Mr Leeuwenburg, a person of independent means, in 1707. He intended to represent his name by placing two sandstone lions above the nicely decorated eaves fascia. Can you see that the lions are placed highly inelegantly with their behind directed towards the Alkmaar city arms? This has everything to do with the less than pleasant experiences he had with the former city council. He thought he had to wait too long for his building permit and he was annoyed by the changes the city architect had made to the building drawings. Only after the fourth design did he finally obtain permission to build the gable. By then he was so irritated he had the lions placed in this position.

Mient
Mient
Zijdeworm, Kroon and Leeuwenburg
Zijdeworm, Kroon and Leeuwenburg

Follow Mient to the end and then left at the Fish Market

7Fish market

Alkmaar already had a fish market back in the 16th century. Through the doors in the wall the freshwater fish was kept fresh in braided baskets in the canal. On the canal-side roof the small statues of a fisherman and a fisherwoman appear on the left and right.

A funny detail is that on market days a stork would be present here. This stork was hired by the municipality and walked around with a real chain of office around its neck. Its task was to eat the fish waste. The bird's wings had been clipped so that it could not flyaway. The question is whether it wanted to as it was not in need of anything!

Hidden between stately canal houses on Verdronkenoord you will find the St. Laurentius Church. This beautiful Cuypers Church houses the miracle of Alkmaar: the Miracle of the Holy Blood.

Past the Fish Market and cross the Flat Stone Bride into Kapelsteeg. Then into the first street right (Laat), then into the first street left (Hofstraat).

8Chapel church

This church dating from approximately 1500 was largely destroyed by a fire in 1760. The church can be visited on Fridays during the cheese market season.

Fish market
Fish market
Chapel church
Chapel church
9Synagoge and Drebbel residence

At Hofstraat 15 you can see the former house of one of Alkmaar's most interesting inhabitants: Cornelis Drebbel. Much later, from 1808 until 1942, the building was used as a synagogue. Before the Second World War the Jewish community in Alkmaar amounted to 213 people of which only six returned after the war. Since 2011 the building has been used as a synagogue once again, becoming a Jewish multi-functional centre. The symbolic text on the gable is by the prophet Haggai: 'the Glory of this last house shall be greater than that of the first'.

Cornelis Drebbel (1572-1633)
A genius

Cornelis Drebbel was definitely one of Alkmaar's most interesting citizens. He was born the son of an upper-class peasant family. He wasn't university educated but was an apprentice of the famous engraver Hendrick Goltzius in Haarlem. Goltzius was engaged in alchemy and was, undoubtedly, the one who enthused Drebbel. Cornelis was the inventor of, among other things, the mercury thermometer, the compound microscope and the perpetuum mobile, this was a clock that indicated the time as well as the date and seasons, and never had to be wound up. When King James I of England heard of the perpetuum mobile, he invited Drebbel to his court for a demonstration. He was highly impressed and commissioned Drebbel to design a submarine; this became his most spectacular invention. He performed the first test dive in the pond in front of his former home. The name of the alley across the street is still called 't Vijvertje (small pond).

In his day Drebbel was a genius and he quickly earned the reputation of a magician. He invented things that were far ahead of his time and many of his inventions are veiled in mystery. There is, for example, a description of a demonstration of a device that made Westminster Abbey so cold on a hot summer's day that King James rushed from the building!

Synagoge and Drebbel residence
Synagoge and Drebbel residence
Drebbel submarine
Drebbel submarine
Alkmaar and the plague

The black death, just as in many other European countries, also wreaked havoc in the Netherlands. Alkmaar obtained a plague­house in 1559. Plague victims could not go out between 8 and 5 and outside these hours only if they kept a white stick in front of them. Comparatively Alkmaar suffered less from the plague than other cities, probably thanks to a better flow of the canals. The worst plague year was 1656 when 10% of the Alkmaar population died; in October of that year a hundred people a week died at the plague­house.

Continue on the Hofstraat, and then left along the canal (Oudegracht). Cross the second bridge on the right, then right again along the Oudegracht on the other side.

10Almshouses of Wildeman

At number 45 you can see one of the city's most attractive monuments that is absolutely worth a visit: the almshouses of Wildeman. Above the entrance a stone statue of a wild man reminds us of the generous benefactor. In the last will and testament of ship-owner Gerrit Florisz. Wildeman (1627-1702) it was determined that almshouses had to be built with his assets. The two statues on both sides represent the Needed and the Aged: the original people who benefitted from these almshouses.

The almshouses were meant for older women of various convictions, who had to be honest and law-abiding and who had to originate from Alkmaar. They had to be unmarried or be widowed and had to renounce 'all activities with men'. In the inner courtyard it seems as if time has stood still, even though the women who now live here are for the most part neither old nor needy, and nowadays male visits are allowed. Unless stated otherwise, you are more than welcome to visit the courtyard, but please bear its inhabitants in mind.

Almshouses of Wildeman
Almshouses of Wildeman
Siege of Alkmaar
Siege of Alkmaar (Pieter Adriaensz Cluyt, 1580)

Follow the Oudegracht, and then the second street left (Baangracht). At the end onto the the stair bridge, then right to follow the pedestrian path of the city ramparts.

Who did not hear of Alkmaar?
Of the battle at the Frisian Gate
For more than six times fifty years?
When Spain's lust for Dutch blood
Was reined in by Alkmaars valour
Mortally terrifying the enemies' soldiers
This you learn from the country's history
Of the Victory at Alkmaar

Alkmaar folk song

The Siege and the Victory

We are now walking on the remnants of the old city ramparts. In 1562 the city was surrounded by a stone wall that had twelve towers and five city gates. In 1572 the city council decided to fortify the city but the work did not progress quickly. In 1573 it was decided to speed things up because the Spanish armies had already arrived at Haarlem. The rampart builder Adriaen Anthonisz was commissioned to fortify the city gainst enemy attack. All available labour had to be mobilised for this enormous project; even children were deployed. Press gangs travelled from village to village to convince labourers to help Alkmaar.

Six months before the city was attacked by the Spaniards, the ramparts were ready. The Spaniards left a trail of destruction behind them, with the intention of definitively crushing the rebellion against the Spanish King. Their intention seemed to succeed, cities like Zutphen and Naarden were heavily hit and after a terrible siege Haarlem was forced onto its knees. The soldiers arrived at the small city of Alkmaar as if it were a holiday trip. They encamped around the city and made sure they had nothing left to desire.

However, the Spaniards did not count on the ingenious plans of the people of Alkmaar who cut the dikes so that the water flooded the land up to the city limits. Remember that in those days the polders surrounding Alkmaar were still lakes. The Spaniards panicked at all the water and, overwhelmed with joy, the people of Alkmaar saw the enemy retreat. Alkmaar was the first city to throw off the Spanish yoke. Nowadays people still say: "The victory starts in Alkmaar".

The most important aspect of the Victory was that people regained courage. A Spanish fleet was destroyed on the Zuiderzee and a year later Leiden would, albeit with much pain and trouble, survive a siege. The Victory of Alkmaar was the beginning of the victory over the Spaniards, even though the war would still last until 1648. To this day the eighth of October, the day of the Victory, is still celebrated with relish.

Cheese Heads

The people of Alkmaar are also called cheese heads and wear this nome with pride. This derives from the fact that during the siege the people of Alkmoar wore 'helmets' on their head to defend themselves from the city ramparts. These helmets were the cheese moulds in which cheeses were pressed, so called cheese heads.

11Mill of Piet

It thanks its name to the Piet family who had maintained it for a few generations already. Old maps show that there used to be no less than ten mills on the city walls because that is where they caught a lot of wind. In the 19th century all the mills on the ramparts were, with the exception of this mill, broken down. The original 17th century wooden mill was replaced by this current stone version in 1769, a round tower mill to mill grain. On the left, at the location of the present bridge, there once stood the Kennemer Gate.

At the Mill of Piet turn right into Ritsevoort.

12Splinter Alms houses

At Ritsevoort 2 (on the corner with the Lindegracht) one can see the second court of almshouses along our walk. The entrance is slightly concealed. Open the green wooden door of number 2 and you will find a covered alley with a second door which leads to a beautiful, intimate inner courtyard. Feel free to do so during the day!

The court was founded in 1646 from benefactress Margaretha van Splinter. It was established for eight unmarried women from a good family who fell into poverty. Home in time, to church and no men about the house! These have been the court of almshouses' house rules for centuries. Nowadays the rules are not that strict anymore but eight unmarried women still live in this magnificent spot.

Mill of Piet
Mill of Piet
Splinter Almshouses
Splinter Almshouses

Cross the bridge into Lindegracht and continue until the end of the straat. Then turn right into Geest. At the end turn right into Gasthuisstraat and continue to the Canadaplein.

13Old house

Along the first street to the left (Kanisstraat 1) is a building that dates back to 1540, it is one of the city's oldest stone houses. It is a simple middle-class house, with a lower facade typical of those days with small windows, shutters and a porch. Previously the lower shutters were also used to display merchandise and thus 'sell from the living room'.

14Municipal museum of Alkmaar

The place to get to know the history of the city and the surroundings. The past in displayed in assorted interactive ways, with venerable collections of old and early modern paintings.

Trijn Rembrands

As a sixteen year old girl during the siege of Alkmaar Trijn became renowned because she displayed the most courage of all the women during the defence of the city. She is said to have fought shoulder to shoulder with the men on the city ramparts. Her reputation has already been contested as there is little evidence of her existence. The story is probably inspired by the wish to have a heroin like the Haarlem Amazon. Trijn has been immortalised on an enormous painting by J.W. Hilverdink which can be seen in one of the City Museum's halls.

Old house
Old house
Trijn Rembrands
Trijn Rembrands
15Maerten Pieterzoon van der Mey

On the northern side of the church you can see a statue of a man with a jumping pole. This is Maerten Pieterzoon van der Mey, the courageous municipal carpenter who managed to smuggle some letters concealed in his jumping pole out of the city to the Orange governor Diederick van Sonoy during the battle against the Spaniards. Herein it was requested to flood the lowlands surrounding Alkmaar, which subsequently happened. The Spanish troops then fled the profusion of water. The original letters are exhibited in the Municipal Museum.

16The big Saint Laurens church

We are proud of the biggest piece of inventory of our church: the world-famous Schnitger organ. The instrument was built by the Van Hagerbeer family in the 17th century and underwent drastic renovation by Caspar Schnitger in the 18th century. Organ players from all over the world still come to the city for the organ concerts during special organ competitions.

Around the year 900 the first people of Alkmaar established themselves here around a wooden chapel, surrounded by lakes and water. The oldest remains date back to the 11th century when it housed a Roman peat stone hall church. In the second half of the 15th century they were working on a tower which collapsed with great force in 1468, killing two nuns. The construction of the present-day church started in 1470 and was completed in 1520. The church is a transept basilica in the Brabant gothic architectural style.

Nowadays, the church is multifunctional and is used for fairs, symposia, exhibitions, concerts, receptions and marriages. Should you wish to see the interior, you can check if the church is open for one of the aforementioned activities.

Maerten Pieterzoon van der Mey
Maerten Pieterzoon van der Mey
The big Saint Laurens church
The big Saint Laurens church

Walk around the curch to the large shopping street (Langestraat).

17City hall

Under the stairs of the City Hall you can see two small windows: those condemned to death used to sit behind the window on the left, and the other prisoners behind the window on the right. Twice a year the Executioner of Haarlem travelled to Alkmaar to do his gruesome work. Until 1821 this took place in the street behind the City Hall. There was always a large crowd, the church bells sounded for the occasion and children had an hour off school. The spectacle was often so horrendous that many walked away screaming. Whipping, drawing and quartering, drowning, decapitating, hanging and burning all occurred. After the execution the bodies were brought to the gallows field just outside the city. There they were hanged again as a frightening example. The death penalty was officially abolished in the Netherlands in 1870.

Around 1500 the means to improve this building were lacking and a number of church wardens proposed to provide financial assistance. The inscription above the entrance states that the work started in 1509. It was ready by about 1520. In 1890 a fire destroyed a large part ofthe building and the city archive also became prey to the flames. Between 1912-1914 the City Hall was renovated and this signalled the start of a long series of renovation works. The two statues at the entrance represent "Truth" and "Justice". Some of the Alkmaar officials still work in this building and every week bridal couples mount the stairs. The building is not open to visitors.

18Moriaanshoofd

This large original patrician mansion borrows its name from a tavern that used to be located here. The Moriaanshoofd was purchased in 1718 by Simon Schagen, one of the aldermen of the city. Over the following years he had the house drastically modernised. As was the case with many houses of the time, he had the gable represent his profession; you can see a symbolic representation of "the good judge". The statues depict virtues such as wisdom, caution and vigilance.

In reality Simon was not such an honest brother and his private life was far from smooth. After the death of his first wife, he married a second time with a rich widow. She appears to have been a jealous and suspicious woman. The story has it that the bay window was rebuilt at her request so that she could watch her husband when he went out for a walk in the Langestraat. She was so suspicious that she did not move her possessions to Simon's house aftertheir marriage, so one night he stole her bonds. The case ended up in court and certainly didn't favour the reputation of a man who had decorated his house with his good attributes.

City hall
City hall
Moriaanshoofd
Moriaanshoofd

After the City hall take the first street left into Van de Boschstraat, and then right into Gedempte Nieuwestraat.

19Court of Sonoy

This Court with its remarkable tower used to be the Convent of Saint Maria Magdalena. After it fell into the hands of the city in 1572, it was decided to house people here who became homeless after their houses had been destroyed to construct the new city walls. After the siege the Court was sold to Diederick van Sonoy, governor of the Northern Quarter who lived here for a couple of years. In 1591 the lawyer Willem van Bardes purchased the Court and had a remarkable octagonal tower built. Presumably the tower served as a watchtower.

Diederick van Sonoy
An unsavoury character

This merciless governor of North Holland (1529-1597) had opted for Protestantism at an early age. In 1567 he refused to take the oath of loyalty to the King of Spain and in 1568, together with eight other rebellious noblemen, he signed a compromise in order to forcefully kick the Spaniards out of the Low Lands. In 1572 Prince William of Orange appointed Sonoy, who had already been working for him as a secret agent, as governor of North Holland.

Diederick is known as a brave yet also very cruel fighter whom everybody dreaded. Suspects were tortured in order to find out who sympathised with the Spaniards. He had the roofs and gutters of the convent in Egmond demolished to mould bullets and cannons, and in Oterleek houses were up in flames because the inhabitants were said to have collaborated with the Spaniards. It is also known that he used women and children as a human shield for his attacking troops during the conquest of Castle Radbout. So, an unsavoury character.

Court of Sonoy
Court of Sonoy
Cheese maiden
Cheese maiden

Continue straight to Magdalenenstraat back to the Weighing House.

Say Cheese, Say Alkmaar

Cheese, cheese, cheese! Cheese is there for the taking in Magdalenenstraat. Come and enjoy the smells and tastes, and feast your eyes on the products in the cheese shops. The cheese maiden at the foot of the Weighing Tower awaits you with a goodbye kiss.

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