Delft is one of the most popular historical towns in the Netherlands. Located between the Hague and Rotterdam, it keeps much of its traditional charm and has a significant number of Dutch Golden Age buildings.
The city started to develop around 1100. At that time, a canal was dug in the area of the current center, making use of a natural creek in the marshy country. The canal was called Delf, from the word “delven” that is similar to the verb to “delve” in English. Soon afterward a second canal was dug, called the Nieuwe Delft (New Delft); it went right through part of the settlement that had grown in the meanwhile. The original Delf was from that time on called Oude Delft (Old Delft), as it is still today. Still later, circular canals or singels were dug and surrounded the city. Fortifications were built along these singels and fixed the shape of the historical inner city of Delft.
The rural village around Oude and Nieuwe Delft developed gradually into a more municipal area and the canals gradually acquired the character of city-canals or grachten. In 1246, Delft received its city-rights from the Count of Holland. It flourished very fast, and as early as 1355 it reached the size it would keep until the beginning of the 19th century.
The city's history was marked by two disasters. On the 3rd of May 1536 the great fire broke out, and 2,300 houses were destroyed. More than a hundred years later, in 1654, an explosion destroyed part of the city. The cellar of the former Poor Clares convent on Paardenmarkt was used to store gunpowder. This central warehouse for the region Holland contained some 80,000 pounds of gunpowder. It exploded, and the consequences were enormous - two hundred houses were razed to the ground, over a hundred people were killed and thousands wounded. The explosion is the main reason why Delft University of Technology maintains explosives science as a topic within its research portfolio and graduate skill-set.
The town's association with the House of Orange started when William of Orange took up residence here in 1572. At the time he was the leader of growing national Dutch resistance against Spanish occupation. By then, Delft was one of the leading cities of Holland, and it was well equipped to serve as headquarters for the rebellion. After the Act of Abjuration was proclaimed in 1581, Delft became the de facto capital of the newly independent Netherlands, as the seat of the Prince of Orange. William was shot dead in 1584, by Balthazar Gerards in the hall of the Delft Prinsenhof. At that time, the family's traditional burial place in Breda was still in the hands of the Spanish. Therefore, he was buried in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), starting a tradition for the House of Orange that has continued to the present day.
The foundation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602 and the establishment of a branch in Delft added an important aspect to the city's economic life- trade with faraway countries. Spices, coffee, tea and Chinese porcelain now found their way to Delft. Between 1602 and 1796 the VOC sent almost a million Europeans to work in the Asia trade on 4,785 ships, and netted for their efforts more than 2.5 million tons of Asian trade goods. Stimulated by the increase in economic activity, the city became a flourishing center of painting, arts, crafts and science.
The painter Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) was born in Delft. Vermeer used Delft streets and home interiors as the subject or background of his paintings. Several other famous painters lived and worked in the city at that time, such as Pieter de Hoogh, Carel Fabritius, Nicolaes Maes, Gerard Houckgeest and Hendrick Cornelisz. van Vliet. They all were members of the Delft School, known for its images of domestic life, views of households, church interiors, courtyards, squares and ordinary street life.
In 1842 the Royal Academy for Civil Engineers was founded in the city. It later became the Delft Technical University, which has today around 13,000 students and is currently the city's largest employer.
The historical center retains a large number of monumental buildings:
Oude Kerk (Old Church), started in 1250.
Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), constructed between 1381 and 1496. It contains the Dutch royal family's burial vault.
The Prinsenhof (Princes' Court), former residence of William of Orange, now turned into a museum.
The City Hall on the Markt (Main square).
The Oostpoort (Eastern gate), built around 1400, the only remaining gate of the old city walls.
The Gemeenlandshuis Delfland, or Huyterhuis, built in 1505, which has housed the Delft regional water authority since 1645.
The Koninklijk Nederlands Legermuseum, the national museum of the Royal Dutch Army housed in the Armamentarium.
The Vermeer Centre in the rebuilt Guild house of St. Luke.
The historical "Waag" building (Weigh house).
Delftware is a generic name for several kinds of ceramics, of which Delft blue (Delfts Blauw) is the best known and most common. Delft Blue started to be produced in The Netherlands in the 17th century. In that period, the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) brought blue painted porcelain from China. It became so popular that it turned into serious competition for the local potters. In order to save their trade, they imitated the porcelain and created Delftware. Although the Delftware potters liked to use the word ’porceleyn’ for their product, this was technically incorrect. Porcelain is made from porcelain clay (kaolin), whilst Delftware is made from a clay mixture that is covered with a tin glaze after it has come out of the kiln.
Between 1600 and 1800 Delft was one of the most important ceramics producers in Europe. Delftware was extremely popular, and rich families proudly showed off their vases, dishes and tiles. In that period, a large part of the city's population was active in this craft. From mid-18th century, competition from the English Wedgwood and other European porcelain industry centers became stronger and things went from bad to worse for Delftware. After 1840, only one workshop remained active. This workshop, the Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles (Royal Delft) is the only remaining of the 32 workshops that were established in Delft during the 17th century. It is known for its Delftware production, which has been going on for more than 350 years, without interruption.
Its survival is attributed to the efforts of Joost Thooft, who took over the factory in 1876, after decades of decay. He gradually managed to make it as successful as it had been in the 17th century. After 1900, all the activities were centralized in the location which is still the current visiting address of the factory, at the Rotterdamseweg in Delft. One hundred years ago, the company was awarded by the Royal Family the ‘Royal’ in its name, which is a sign of appreciation for its contribution to the Dutch Delft Blue industry. You can find more information about the workshop and the Royal Delft museum here:
We will meet as usual in the main hall of the Amsterdam Central Station, in front of the Hema shop, at 10 AM. We should arrive in Delft around 11:30. We will visit first the Royal Delft workshop, and then we will walk around the city center. At some point during the afternoon we will stop for lunch at a local restaurant. We will leave the city around 6 PM, and be back in Amsterdam before 8 PM. If anyone needs to leave earlier, there are direct trains towards Amsterdam every 15 minutes. Looking forward to meeting you next Sunday!