Haarlem Shuffle


Mediaeval lepers' hospital just outside Haarlem The name Haarlem comes from 'Haarlo-heim', which meant village on higher ground. It all started with some hunters' encampments on a beachhead on the western coast of Holland, at the intersection of an old overland trade route and a corner of a large lake giving easy access to inland waterways.

Once the seat of the Dukes of Holland, Haarlem went from being a mediaeval court with squabbling nobles to being an important centre for beer brewing and the linen and silk trades, drawing enormously on the expertise brought to the town by Flemings (fleeing the Eighty Years War) from the end of the 16th century onwards.

The Golden Age

Like other major Dutch towns, Haarlem saw conflict with the Spanish who had annexed the Low Countries, culminating in a seven-month siege of the town which started in late 1572. Ultimately, Haarlem surrendered but it was a punishing siege for the Spanish too, and they only stayed long enough to see the town sign a treaty agreeing to uphold certain religious (Catholic) principles, after which they left. Ironically, not long afterwards the town was granted all possessions of the Catholic church in Haarlem as compensation following one of the several city fires which destroyed large parts of the town. As there were many abbeys and convents in Haarlem, this acquisition stood Haarlem in good financial stead.

The town saw the rise (and fall) of various industries as the city elders sought to develop the town in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Golden Age of the Low Countries. Textiles, brewing and printing have all left their marks on the town's buildings and street names. The once-famous city defenses, in the form of walls, ramparts, gatehouses and look-out towers, have largely disappeared but remnants, like the Amsterdamse Poort, do still survive and the magnificent cathedral on the main square is testimony to the power and financial clout once enjoyed by Haarlem.

The Modern Era

In the early 19th century Haarlem became the provincial capital of North Holland and was soon linked to Amsterdam by a new steam railway. By mid-century many new industries had been founded, helped by the new trade from the North Sea canal. The Waarderpolder, situated to the north-east of the city, became the new industrial hub. The latter part of the 19th century saw much new development with residential areas, such as the Rozenprieel and Leidsebuurt, being built. There were also improvements in public health and transport and in 1899 Holland's first electric tram ran in Haarlem.

Nowadays, Haarlem is a quiet, mainly residential town with beautiful old buildings, green parks and picturesque canals and waterways winding through town. Yet life still very much revolves around the oldest part of town, with its cafes, bars and shops: the main square or Grote Markt, once a clump of higher ground near the coastal dunes where a nobleman of old chose to build his home.