Willemstad, Netherlands


Willemstad is a fortified city and former municipality in the municipality of Moerdijk, in the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant. Willemstad is where Volkerak and Hollandsch Diep meet.



Willemstad is located between Fijnaart and Numansdorp. Nearby centers are Helwijk, Klundert, Den Bommel, Achthuizen. Nearest large cities are Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Breda.



Willemstad's original name is Ruigenhil. From 1584 the name Willemstad was used in honor of the murdered William of Orange in that year.



Although the city of Willemstad was founded in 1583, the first signs of habitation in this area go back many thousands of years. In 1968, an approximately 6,500-year-old oak statue was found during the construction of the Delta Works: the Man of Willemstad. It was found in a layer of peat at a depth of 8 meters between the remains of the roots of an oak. In the Mesolithic, it must have been deliberately placed between those roots. Due to the rapid rise in the groundwater table, it ended up in a favorable conservation environment and was spared for posterity.

The 'Man of Willemstad' is a human figure of which only the head has recognizable features. Initially there were doubts about the authenticity, mainly because no other examples were known. They are there now, so that the statue is no longer controversial.

The function of the statue can only be guessed. It could have been a toy doll, but also a ritual object. After all, there are indigenous peoples who still live today, such as the hunters / gatherers from the Mesolithic. They use richly decorated objects in shamanic rituals and funeral ceremonies. The Man of Willemstad could have served such a function.

The first signs of clear habitation do not occur until many centuries later. The village of Ruigenhil was created in this area in the mid-16th century. Ruigenhil gradually took shape in 1565 in the bunting in this area, which was reclaimed by Jan IV van Glymes, Marquis van Bergen op Zoom. On June 17, 1583, after the Battle of Steenbergen, the Spaniards took Steenbergen. William of Orange therefore had Ruigenhil strengthened into a fortress. After his death in 1584, his son, Prince Maurits, granted the place city rights in 1585. Willemstad was given the official name Willemstad.

Prince Maurits had the 'fortification master' Adriaen Anthonisz expand the fortress into its current form of a seven-pointed star. The bastions at the tips of the star were each named after one of the seven provinces that had united in the fight against Spain. The town map is so well suited to the fortifications that it is often thought that both were designed at the same time. Initially the fortress had five bastions and two small fortresses. The fortress was later improved several times.

Coenraat Norenburch also built a Protestant church in Willemstad, the Koepelkerk (1607). This is the first church built for Protestant worship in the Netherlands. Prince Maurits provided financial support for the church on the condition that it be built in a round or octagonal shape. In 1623 Maurits had the Princehof built in Willemstad (Mauritshuis since 1973). The building was the town hall of the municipality of Willemstad from 1973, until Willemstad was merged into the municipality of Moerdijk in 1997.

There is a link between Willemstad and the Van Oranje family; one of Willem-Alexander's titles is Lord of Willemstad. See Titles of the Dutch Royal Family.

Willemstad withstood a siege by the French in 1793, but was surrendered after the fall of Bergen op Zoom. In the early 19th century, Willemstad was visited by King Louis Napoleon on April 27 and 28, 1809 and by his brother Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte on October 4, 1811. The emperor ordered the construction of a powder house. After the English invasion, during the Walcheren Expedition, the French reinforced the coastal defenses with two forts south of Willemstad: Fort Sabina Henrica and Fort de Hel.

In 1874 Willemstad became the center of the Defense Line of the Hollandsch Diep and the Volkerak. It had to protect Holland against troops who wanted to cross the Hollandsch Diep from Brabant and close off the access for ships to the Hollandsch Diep. In 1922 the garrison left Willemstad for good.


In May 1940 it came to the point that Willemstad really played a modest role in the defense of the Netherlands, on the Southern Front of Fortress Holland. Ever since the mobilization, Willemstad had again a modest garrison of troops who had to defend the fortified town in case of war as a pre-defense of the position of Numansdorp. The spring point in particular was important. On the fourth day of the war, May 14, 1940, a German reconnaissance unit with armored cars came to Willemstad. After a brief skirmish, the defense was given up and Willemstad fell into German hands. During the war, the Germans would once again give Willemstad's old maritime value some blazon. A few casemates were built on the old ramparts and a modest garrison was present to occupy them.

On May 30, 1940, an inland vessel, Rhenus 127, hit a German magnetic mine near Willemstad and sank. On the ship were Belgian prisoners of war who were deported to Germany. According to a German report, 167 were dead; however, the actual number is much higher. Most of them were buried in a Cemetery of Honor near the harbor.

Willemstad was an independent municipality until January 1, 1998; since then it has been part of the municipality of Moerdijk.



On May 28, 1926 the status of fortress was lifted by Royal Decree. In 1970 the entire former fortress, including the city center and the firing field, was declared a protected cityscape. The design of the town of Ruigenhil, a front street village with the Voorstraat and the Groenstraat and Achterstraat as back streets, has been incorporated into the fortress built between 1583 and 1587.

The most important buildings are:
The Mauritshuis is the original country residence of Prince Maurits, dating from 1623
The Koepelkerk is the Protestant church, from 1607
The Holy Virgin Mary is the Catholic church, designed by P. Soffers (1875)
d'Orangemolen is a round stone scaffolding mill from 1734
The Arsenaal dates from 1792 and was designed by Philip Willem Schonck
The Old Town Hall dates from 1587 and was further decorated in 1620
The Fortifications of Willemstad were established from 1583 and served as such until 1926
The former Wachthuis at Benedenkade 4 was founded in the 2nd half of the 18th century.

Many houses date from the 17th and 18th centuries, but they often have a 19th-century facade.
Voorstraat 25 is a house that originally dates from 1636, but has a 19th-century facade.
Kerkring 37 has a spout facade and was built around the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Voorstraat 1-3 has an Empire style cornice facade from the beginning of the 19th century.
Voorstraat 63 was built at the beginning of the 19th century.
Kerkring 25 is a neoclassical mansion from the 19th century.
Voorstraat 65 is an 18th-century corner building, called "In de blaauwen Molen". It housed a groceries with a horse mill, called "the Willemstadtsche Grutterij". An 18th century tile panel shows the mill.
Some warehouses on the Bovenkade from the early 18th century.

The farms have a rectangular house and a large, detached barn with wolf roof.
Oostdijk 12 has a 17th-century house, the windows of which have basket arches.
Oostdijk 18, Noordlangweg 4 and Steenpad 3 ("Hoeve Stadszicht") date from the beginning of the 19th century.

Church buildings included:
On the Benedenkade was a reformed church from 1841, resulting from the Secession of 1834. It was disposed of in 1890 and later demolished.
The Reformed Church at Voorstraat 40, from 1890. It was closed in 2004 and sold. A square bell tower with octagonal needle spire has been built in the facade.