Middelburg, Netherlands


Middelburg is a place in the Dutch province of Zeeland, the capital of the municipality of the same name and the capital of the province. The place is located on the former island of Walcheren. The city of Middelburg had 42,055 inhabitants on 1 January 2020, the municipality has 48,766 (1 August 2020, source: CBS). It is the second largest municipality in the province after Terneuzen. Middelburg is the starting point of the N57 and is located on the A58 and the Roosendaal - Vlissingen railway line. The city is bisected by the Canal through Walcheren.



Middle Ages

Middelburg must have originated around the middle of the 9th century, because archaeological excavations from after the destruction of 1940 (see below) have found utensils from that period. The middle ring walburg (or refuge castle) on Walcheren was probably built near the place at the end of the 9th century, which lay between the Duinburcht (Domburg) and the Zuidburcht (Souburg). This castle was probably intended as a defense against the Vikings after they had been chased from the island after the failed raid of Rodulf (873). But much is uncertain about these fortresses: they may also have been built at the time of Viking king Harald the Younger, who ruled the island between 841 and 864. The burg had a diameter of more than 200 meters and was surrounded by an earthen wall and a moat, which was formed in the north and east by the river Arne and dug in the south (Lange Delf) and west. The current height of the castle hill is approximately 7 meters above sea level.

In the 10th century, an agricultural settlement arose to the west of the burg, around the current Markt, at a crossroads of three higher situated sandy creek ridges west of the burg: Noordweg, Seisweg and Segeersweg. These country roads ran (and run) from here to other parts of Walcheren. As early as 1103, 'Mitthelburgensis portus' is referred to in the biography of Willibrord of Thiofried as a trading settlement, of which the river Arne was the most important trade connection with the sea. The Arnewater to the east of the ringwalburg (present-day Damplein) served as a harbor. In the second half of the 10th century, the Westmonsterkerk (St. Martin's Church) was built in this trading settlement (demolished in 1575). The first monastery was probably also founded here. The monastery of Echternach may have played a role in this. In the same period, a second settlement arose to the east of the burg, near the present-day Damplein. Shortly after the year 1000 Middelburg was designated by the German emperor Henry II the Holy as the administrative center of Walachria-Bevelandia. The Flemish count Boudewijn IV became the first count of this part of the area in 1012, which would be called Zeelandia (Zeeland) sometime between 1162 and 1189.

At the end of the 11th century, the Noordmonsterkerk (Sint-Pieterskerk) was founded north of the ring walburg as the second parish church (demolished in 1834). In 1123 the canons built a new monastery within the safe ring walburg: the Abbey of Middelburg, which was transferred to the Premonstratensians in 1127 as the daughter of the Saint Michael's Abbey in Antwerp. Later, two churches were built on the abbey grounds: the 14th-century Koorkerk and the 15th-century Nieuwe Kerk. In 1217 Middelburg was granted city rights from Count William I of Holland and Countess Joanna of Flanders, referring to an earlier, possibly 12th-century, city hallmark. In 1254 these city rights were extended by Count Willem II of Holland.


The ring rampart remained in use well into the 13th century: the canals are still mentioned in 1232 and 1266. In this last year, Middelburg was - possibly as a follow-up to the extension of the city rights - provided with city walls, which can also be seen on the 16th-century map by Jacob van Deventer and were surrounded by the partly still existing inner canals. The eastern inner canals ran at the location of Zuidsingel and Spuistraat. Between 1266 and 1301, the Arne was subsequently filled in at the site of the burggracht and the harbor (the Damplein). Outside the north walls the Molenwater was dug, which was set up as a drainage basin: at high tide it was allowed to fill up and at low tide the water was allowed into the new harbor of the city (after 1540 called the Oude Haven) to keep it at depth and rinse clean. A little after 1350, the new harbor at the location of the current Schuitvlotstraat was reinforced with a water gate (the Dampoort). In 1312, the city canal in the southeast was moved outside to also include the Vlissingsestraat within the city walls. At that time Middelburg developed into the center of the cloth trade with England. These trading activities were possible because the city was within the economic sphere of influence of the Scheldt Delta with the Flemish trading and banking cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp in its vicinity. In fact, Middelburg was a kind of outer port of Bruges. Goods from seagoing vessels were transferred in Middelburg to lighter inland vessels in order to reach Bruges more inland. With the rise of Antwerp in the 15th century, the transhipment activities in Middelburg began to focus on that city and thus actually became an outer port of Antwerp. To this end, new roads were constructed at the even more lucrative Arnemuiden, which in turn formed the outer harbor of Middelburg. Arnemuiden tried several times to increase the port activities himself, but Middelburg always managed to prevent this because the trade could then shift. Middelburg tried several times at that time to acquire the staple rights to a number of products, but did not succeed because the ships preferred to transit to trading cities such as Bruges or Antwerp. The city was only able to obtain de facto staple rights for French wines, but not de jure.

In 1432 and 1492 large city fires took place in Middelburg, in which large parts of the city were destroyed. After these fires, various measures were taken to prevent future city fires. At first the obligation was imposed that from now on only stone chimneys and slate or tiled roofs could be placed. Later, the city council imposed the stone fine in order to obtain stones that were then offered cheaply to be able to build new stone facades. From 1695, a ban was imposed on the construction of wooden facades and wooden side walls that opened onto the streets under penalty of a fine of 25 guilders and a penalty of one Flemish pound per day to demolish the wooden (side) facade within fourteen days. . Wooden facades could no longer be repaired and thus had to disappear via an extinction construction. However, in 1724 there were still 71 wooden facades. The last wooden facade was moved in 1888 to a place against a wall of the former building of the Zeeuwsch Genootschap der Wetenschappen, where it is still present (Wagenaarstraat 1, visible from Achter het Hofplein).


Economical growth

Initially, the Arne was the main water connection with the Sloe estuary. In the 15th century, however, the strongly meandering Arne silted up further and further, after which between 1532 and 1535 the straight Canal of Welzinge was dug as a harbor channel to the roadstead at Arnemuiden near the later Nieuwland. In 1540 this canal was extended to the southern city canal, where new quays were constructed, creating the Nieuwe Haven. The adjacent western city moat was also used as a drain for the new harbor. Both this canal and the Molenwater were used to drive a tidal mill for grinding grain. The first still exists as the Getijdenmolen Middelburg. Between 1549 and 1550 the city was expanded at Maisbaai, where a new harbor was built, which was protected by a (later demolished) square bastion.

During the ecclesiastical reorganization of the Netherlands by order of Philip II in 1559, Middelburg became bishop's see. However, the diocese of Middelburg only existed for a short time. Unlike many other Zeeland towns, Middelburg, like Amsterdam, sided with the Spaniards after the capture of Den Briel in 1572. But after a long siege by the Beggars, the city had to join the prince in February 1574.


After the transition to the republic, the abbey church was secularised and transformed into a main church. The Westmonsterkerk, which had become redundant, was already demolished in 1575. The rest of the abbey complex was transformed into an administrative center for the region of Zeeland. After the States General of the Netherlands had settled in the Northern Netherlands in 1583, they initially met in Middelburg, before choosing The Hague as their meeting place in 1585. In 1592, Middelburg was given an Illustrious school, an institution for higher education, which was only allowed to provide basic academic training, but which did not hold any promotion rights (ius promovendi). The well-known Franciscus Gomarus was a minister and teacher of Biblical theology and Hebrew in Middelburg from 1611 to 1615.

Because Arnemuiden, Veere and Vlissingen had sided with the rebels in 1572, Middelburg still had to give up a number of rights to these cities after the change of power. Although the city was soon able to resume its trading activities, it had from now on lost the Walcheren monopoly on the port activities: Vlissingen was allowed to expand its port facilities considerably and would in the course of time develop into the most important port on the island. In 1582, however, Middelburg managed to secure the position of a depot for English cloth. The Fall of Antwerp and the subsequent blockade of the Scheldt in 1585 subsequently meant that the city could no longer be an outer port of this city and it lost its hinterland. However, with the help of the many merchants who settled in the city from the Southern Netherlands, Middelburg managed to maintain its position by pursuing an active trade policy. The city was experiencing great economic prosperity at that time. Middelburg was one of the most important instigators in the foundation of both the VOC and the WIC. The Chamber of Zeeland was the most powerful trading chamber of the VOC after Amsterdam, with half the power of this city. Middelburg as such was just as important as the other four VOC cities of Delft, Enkhuizen, Hoorn and Rotterdam put together. The WIC also had an important chamber in the city as a result of the booming privateering and trans-Atlantic slave trade. A currency exchange bank was established in 1616 and a loan bank in 1636. The many English and French ships that called in the Middelburg harbor can be seen in the names of streets and old houses, which often refer to foreign countries. Until the end of the 16th century it managed to maintain its position as the largest merchant city in the Northern Netherlands. Even after that it remained the most important port and trading city of the Republic after Amsterdam. The economic boom caused the population to increase from about 7,000 to about 27,000 inhabitants between 1576 and 1675. This made it the fifth largest city in the country around 1675, with more inhabitants than The Hague and Utrecht. To accommodate this population growth, two major city expansions were carried out in the 16th century: Between 1578 and 1591 the old harbor was enlarged to the Outer Harbor and the New City was built to the north-east of it, where in the second half of the 17th century the first new Protestant church arose: the Oostkerk. Between 1595 and 1598, an even larger expansion was subsequently made, including a new earthen city wall with 13 bastions as a third ring after the ring walburg and the city walls of 266. With this, the Molenwater was also drawn within the walls. A large yard for VOC ships was constructed at Maisbaai. Of the 1772 VOC ships in total, which were launched between 1602 and 1795, 336 were built on the Middelburg yards.


Stagnation and decline

However, the disappearance of the hinterland of Middelburg eventually led to economic stagnation. As a result, Middelburg itself had come to lie in the hinterland of the Dutch cities. Around 1660, Rotterdam increasingly took over the position of Middelburg as a trading port, but competition from Amsterdam turned out to be an even greater problem. In 1720 the city tried to turn the tide by founding the Middelburgsche Commercie Compagnie, but this did not bring enough solace. In the meantime, the city was further embellished by the construction of the Zuidsingel between 1735 and 1737, during which the Molenwater was also transformed into a Zeeland variant of the (Hague) Hofvijver.


In 1779 the city still had about 25,000 inhabitants, but after that it started to decline. The naval blockade and the loss of a number of VOC and WIC possessions during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War in the early 1780s caused an economic downturn. In 1795, Middelburg had dropped to 20,146 inhabitants, making it the eighth city in the country. The economic downturn was exacerbated during the French Era. The economic downturn of the Batavian Republic hit Zeeland hardest in the entire country. There was no money for port improvement and the population left the city for lack of work. In 1807 the population had fallen by more than a third to 16,000 inhabitants. Directly after the French Period, a new harbor canal was dug to the Veerse Gat between 1815 and 1817 under the leadership of King William I to replace the silted Canal from Welzinge to the already reclaimed parts at Arnemuiden, but this did not lead to any improvement. Between 1817 and 1824, the population even fell below 13,000, almost halving it in about 50 years. As a result, a quarter of all houses and many iconic buildings in the city were demolished. For example, in 1823 the Waag (1526), ​​in 1827 the prison the Gravensteen (1449) and later in 1878 the Excise House and in 1882 the Wisselbank. The economic tide remained poor for much of the 19th century. A weaving mill founded in 1838 in one of the former WIC warehouses went bankrupt again in 1869. To provide employment, the city walls were provided with a walking route between 1841 and 1849 and the Molenwater was first partly filled in in 1817 and then completely between 1859 and 1864.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the infrastructure around the city was somewhat improved in the hope of renewed economic growth. In 1873 the new railway line Roosendaal - Vlissingen was completed over the new Sloedam built in 1871, which from now on connected Walcheren with the mainland. To replace the now blocked Sloe, the harbor canal from 1817 was upgraded in 1873 to the Kanaal door Walcheren to reconnect the Oosterschelde with the Westerschelde. With the completion of this canal, the tidal mills and the old harbor became obsolete. Between 1875 and 1876, the harbor was converted into the Prins Hendrikdok, a dry dock that was little used, however, and was closed in 1930. However, trade was not expected to pick up again. Vlissingen had taken over the position as an industrial city and as a peripheral city, Middelburg was still unable to compete with the Dutch cities in terms of trade. However, the city was able to strengthen its position as an administrative city and care center for Walcheren by building a court in 1838, a national training school in 1876 and a Christian training school in 1910. At the end of the 19th century, some industry was still established with the establishment of Houthandel Alberts in 1873 , Vitrite Works lamp base factory in 1889 and a canal-side flour factory in the same year. However, this industry later disappeared. At the end of the 19th century, a water shopping canal was dug for the city in the Oranjezon nature reserve.

After 1900, the building was first built outside the old town. A number of villas were built along the Seissingel, in the 1920s the working-class area of ​​Nieuw Middelburg was built around the Veersesingel and around 1930 a number of middle class houses were built around the Noordsingel.


World War II and reconstruction

Middelburg, and Walcheren as a whole, suffered greatly during the Second World War. Zeeland was not included in the capitulation of the Netherlands on May 15. French troops were still fighting with German units. The French troops were shelled by German artillery on their retreat from Middelburg on 17 May 1940. During this bombing of Middelburg the city center partly burned out and 600 buildings were destroyed. A large number of historic buildings, including the town hall, the abbey complex, the East Indies House, the former warehouses of the VOC and a number of iconic residential houses were lost or were badly damaged. Partly because the city was evacuated, the number of victims was limited to 11 deaths. In May 1940, engineer Jan de Ranitz took the initiative for the reconstruction of Middelburg, based on full recovery. German architect Hermann Roloff of the Reichskommissariat Niederlande had big plans to build a motorway right through the center and to create a state theater for 800 people and a sports ground for mass gatherings in the city. However, these plans have not been implemented. In 1941, architects Pieter Verhagen and Louis Suzon Pedro Scheffer started the plans of the Ranitz, which were executed in traditionalist forms. Although the old situation was chosen as the starting point, major adjustments were made to the street pattern for the sake of aesthetics and for traffic engineering reasons. For example, the Markt was reduced in size, the Lange Delft widened, the new Stadhuisstraat, the Zusterplein, Walplein and Plein were constructed in 1940 and the straight Lange Burg that ran through the old ring walburg was changed to a bayonet shape to obtain a better view of the Nieuwe Kerk. There were also a number of new buildings that were later designated as national monuments, such as the Hofje Onder den Toren. On the west side of the city center, a new district, 't Zand, for residents of the city center, which had been annexed from the municipality of Koudekerke, was created after a design by architect Paul Briët. Construction ceased in 1943. In October 1944, Middelburg, with the exception of the city center, was flooded by the inundation of Walcheren. During the fighting that followed from 1 to 6 November 1944, the city was shelled by Allied fighter-bombers and by British and Canadian artillery and badly damaged again. Middelburg was liberated on 6 November.

After the war, the reconstruction was increased. In 1947 the district 't Zand II was built and in 1948 the district De Griffioen. Only in 1970 was the restoration of the inner city completed and the construction of a replica of the former St. Jorisdoelen civic guard building was completed. The reconstruction continued in the 1970s. For example, the Segeersstraat was widened, the Geer area was demolished and the Damplein was realized through the demolition of a block of houses. On the west side, the Schroebrug was built over the canal in 1970 and the Looierssingel was built adjacent to it between 1972 and 1978 as a tangent, for which a number of buildings were demolished. In those years, however, more attention was paid to the restoration of monuments. For example, the Kuiperspoort was restored in 1973, the Spanjaardstraat in 1974 and the Bellinkstraat in 1975. In 1984, the entire city center of Middelburg was designated a protected cityscape.

In 1966 the municipality of Sint Laurens and parts of the municipality of Nieuw- en Sint Joosland were annexed for large-scale new construction plans on the west and north sides of the city. The Klarenbeek, Griffioen (second phase), Breewijk and Stromenwijk neighborhoods were built on these grounds. The districts of Dauwendaele, Magistraatwijk, Erasmuswijk and Reyershove also rose southeast of the canal. In 1984 the building of the Zeeland Library was built. Between 1988 and 1992, a new residential area was built on the site of the Vitrite factory. In 1993 the former House of Detention was demolished for the construction of the new Middelburg Court.


21st century

The station area along the Canal through Walcheren has undergone a transformation since 2000. A new bus station was built and in 2004 the new municipal office of the Municipality of Middelburg and the office of the Zeeuwseilanden Water Board opened their doors, followed in 2005 by the office of the Zeeland Directorate of Rijkswaterstaat.

At the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005, Middelburg was in the news due to problems with the construction site for a new theater-cum-cinema ("A-Theater") with a parking garage in the center. The sheet pile wall of the construction pit was found to be leaking, removing groundwater from the environment and causing houses to sag. To prevent accidents, the construction pit was flooded on March 3, 2005. Since then, a solution has been sought.


In the Mortiere district, the amusement park ZEP has been realized, with Miniatuur Walcheren (now Mini Mundi) relocated in 2009 and various catering companies. There is already an industrial estate and a regional training center (Scalda). South of this is a residential boulevard. On the southwest side of Middelburg, a mosque and a new Salvation Army building have been built next to the barracks of the City Regional Fire Service.


Architecture and monuments

Middelburg Abbey has an almost 91 meter high tower, adjacent to the Nieuwe Kerk and the Koorkerk, which is called the Lange Jan and is for many the symbol of Middelburg. In the Nieuwe Kerk is the marble grave of the Zeeland naval heroes Cornelis and Johan Evertsen. The 15th-century Munttoren is located near the Abbey. The Abbey complex now houses, among other things, the Provinciehuis and the Zeeuws Museum.

The oldest parts of the late Gothic Town Hall on the Markt, used as a university building, date from 1458. Eight members of the Keldermans family of architects in the south of the Netherlands contributed to this. The façade contains statues of the counts and countesses who ruled Zeeland. In addition to the City Hall and the Abbey, some other well-known listed buildings are the Sint Jorisdoelen, the Van de Perrehuis (in which the Zeeland Archives is located) and Huize 's-Hertogenbosch.

Middelburg once had the most historical buildings of the Dutch cities, after Amsterdam, and after that it was the third monument city after Amsterdam and Maastricht for a long time. Despite the consequences of the war (destruction of several hundred monuments) and the demolition of many old buildings in the fifties and sixties, when it comes to national monuments in the city center, Middelburg is, with more than 1100, still, after Amsterdam, Maastricht, Leiden and Utrecht are the fifth monument city in the Netherlands. The restoration of monuments got a boost at the beginning of the 1970s. In the international monument year 1975, Middelburg was declared one of the exemplary cities. The municipality of Middelburg has more than 1150 national monuments, making it the seventh municipality in the Netherlands (List of national monuments in Middelburg (municipality)).