Delft, The Netherlands

Posted on January 9, 2010

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This weekend, I headed north to Delft.

The Dutch countryside north of Rotterdam. Flat, empty, and crisscrossed by canals.
The bicycle parking outside the railway station was incredible. There must have been thousands!
Delft is a medium-sized town approximately 12km north of Rotterdam with an extensive history dating back almost 1,000 years. While it has suffered from two massive fires and one explosion of the town armory, much of the old city is in good condition and dates as far back as the 1400’s. Delft feels like a small Amsterdam, with its many canals, pedestrian shopping areas, and outdoor cafes. I decided to explore Delft today because it is easy to get to and it is very cold, so I wanted to be able to get back to my hotel quickly if need be.

Look Ma, people are skating on the canals!

To get to Delft, I took the National Railway, which cost 6 euros for a round trip ticket and took about fifteen minutes. The Delft railway station is central and I was easily able to walk to all of the places I visited. The best part of Delft was the old buildings and beautiful canals. It is a very scenic town that is best enjoyed by taking the time to walk around and explore.
Royal Delft Dutchware
My first stop of the day was to Royal Dutch Delftware, the last remaining Delftware factory in what used to be a thriving industry. The company was established in 1653 and quickly established a distinctive blue and white technique that became the hallmark of this town. The porcelain is based on designs and techniques that the Dutch explorer brought back with them from China during this period of exploration.

The tour consisted of a walk through the manufacturing areas, including where the pottery is formed and baked, fired, glazed, and ultimately finished. Delft employs seven full time painters who handpaint all of the designs. It takes ten years of training and work before a painter is considered a master painter and assigned to the most important pieces.
One of the most distinctive products that Royal Delft makes is a tulip holder. In the 1700’s tulips were incredibly expensive and a very popular way for rich families to show their wealth. These tulip vases are still available and are now the very expensive part. I considered buying a small vase in the gift shop but I found that even the smallest items were 75 euros or more. Too rich for my blood, though it was beautiful.
Oude Kerk (Old Church)
Built in 1246, this church is along the main canal and has a collection of beutiful stained glass windows. The floors are lined with crypts from notable citizens, including the artist Johannes Vermeer. The church is crowned with a high brick spire accented with four towers. It is the second tallest structure in the town.

The tower is plainly leaning at an angle. The best theory as to why is that the tower was built over a partially filled in canal. The fill appears to be somewhat unstable.
The stained glass windows have been replaced a number of times due to fire. In 1654, the town armory exploded, which destroyed all of the windows in this church and the New Church in addition to killing hundreds of citizens. Currently there are 27 significant stained glass windows, depicting various biblical scenes.
Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)
The New Church was started in 1396 and finished one hundred years later. It is in a cruciform shape. It is topped with a high tower and is constructed with a combination of brick and stone. The tower has been hit by lightning twice, triggering the fire of 1536 that destroyed much of Delft. Each time, the church was repaired and put back into service. Congregations still worship in the church to this day.
The royal family has long had a close relationship with this church, starting when William of Orange was put in a mausoleum here. William was the first in the line of the House of Orange, the royal family dating back to the 1500s. Since that time, much of the royalty has been buried in a crypt underneath the church.
Johannes Vermeer Museum
The world famous painter (Girl with the Pearl Earing) was born in Delft in 1632 and lived his entire life there. Vermeer had a total of 15 children and painted 37 paintings that are known. The museum has prints of his paintings, no originals, which was disappointing but not surprising.
It was interesting to see the prints of all of the Vermeer paintings lined up. It was possible to see how his style evolved over time and he learned to incorporate successful elements in each future painting. Vermeer is renouned for his grasp of light and how to depict it in his paintings.

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Posted in: Netherlands, Travel