By train just 20 km and 15 minutes West of Amsterdam, Haarlem is one of the Netherlands gems, located between the coastal dunes and the Haarlemmermeer in the province of North Holland. This historic town on the River Spaarne has clung to its ancient character more than any other town in the Randstad (Rim City), the great conurbation also known as the big village that stretches south from Amsterdam to Rotterdam embracing The Hague, Leiden, Utrecht, Delft and Gouda.
Haarlem is the 13th largest town in Holland and covers a surface of 32.1 km², of which 8% is covered with water. Nearly 150,000 inhabitants live in the capital of the North Holland province with 20% of the population being of foreign extraction.
It has been the historical center of the tulip bulb-growing district for centuries and for this reason bears the nickname ‘Bloemenstad’ (flower city). The municipality of Haarlem also comprises part of the village Spaarndam, a newer housing estate forming part of the municipality of Haarlemmerliede en Spaarnwoude.
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. The motto of Haarlem is Vicit vim virtus, which is Latin for Virtue conquered force.
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 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.
Once you are in the old city at the Grote Markt, a central square with elegant Renaissance and Gothic architecture, there are many side streets to discover filled with galleries, antiques shops and cafés.
3500 B.C. Stone axes found from this period.
2000 B.C. First evidence of settlement in the area.
ca 50 B.C. The Romans establish a fort in Velsen.
918 The name ‘Haarlem’ first appears.
1245 Count William II declares Haarlem a city.
ca 1300 Work starts on the St Bavo Cathedral on the main square.
1395 The first ‘hofjes’ (courtyard houses) in Holland are built for the poor by Dirk van Bakenes.
1430 Refugee Fleming Laurens Coster invents printing in Haarlem (according to inhabitants).
1572 Siege of Haarlem by the Spanish which lasts seven months before Haarlem capitulates.
1656 Abraham Casteleyn prints the first newspaper in Europe in Haarlem.
1811 Emperor Napoleon makes a visit to Haarlem.
1813 Haarlem established as the capital of the province ‘Holland’.
1899 The first electric tram in Holland runs in Haarlem.
1945 Hannie Schaft, a resistance heroine, is murdered by order of the Gestapo.
1995 Haarlem celebrates its 750th anniversary as a city.
Sights in the Haarlem area
- Amsterdamse Poort
- Central Railway Station
- Frans Hals Museum
- Haarlems Secret Gardens
- Hoofdwacht (Guard House)
- St Bavo Catholic Cathedral
- St Bavo Protestant Cathedral
- Teyler Museum
- Theater De Toneelschuur
- The Adriaan Windmill
- The Corrie ten Boom House
- Town Hall
- Villa Welgelegen
- Vleeshal (Meat Hall)
- Vroom and Dreesmann Building