The map of Willemstad

The map of Willemstad



  • Willemstad, Netherlands

Willemstad (William’s Town) is a city in North Brabant, a province in the southern part of the Netherlands. The city is known as an unaffected example of sixteenth century fortification architecture and has been placed under the care of the Dutch service for building preservation.

In the Middle Ages, Dutch cities experienced a slow, spontaneous growth. Because of that, there was little need for planning models.

Later on, impolderings of ground outside the dykes were started. With the founding of a town in the new polder, the place for the new town was carefully chosen. Willemstad is a good example of this.

The map of Willemstad

    In the midst of the sixteenth century, it was decided to create one of the last big impolderings in the north-east of the North Brabant province. At the end of 1564, the impoldering was completed and a town was founded in the extreme north-west corner of the polder.

    The surveyor, who fixed the ground plan, viewed earlier ground plans which showed how towns in the provinces should be built at that time. But many times the towns were not built according to the original plan. However, Willemstad was built to the plan as originally designed. This new town was at first named Ruigenhil (Rough Hil). The street map for Willemstad has not changed since this time and remains the same today.

    This map, drawn in 1586 by surveyor Symon Damass of Dueren, was ordered by the estate agent of prince Maurits of Orange-Nassau, the lord of Willemstad. This manuscript map on parchment has the direction of east at the top.

    The description on the map

      The description on the map is written in Middle-Dutch and reads:

      "Gront caerte van Willems-stadt gheleghen inden ruyghen hil met haer ryvier ende hauen straten grachten boltewercken ende catten alsulcx als die in haer platte forme geleghen is. aldus gedaen deur co[m]missie vanden tresaurier van synder genaden Graeff Mauritz van Nassauwen. By myn Symon Da[m]mass van Dueren ghesworen lant-meter. Actum den 6 Janewario 1586 stilo nouo."

      The translation of the description in modern English reads:

      "Map of Willemstad, situated in the Ruigenhil with its river and harbour, streets, canals, strongholds and ‘katten’ (see below), as these are to be seen from above. Done as ordered by the estate agent of his merciful count Maurits of Nassau. By me, Symon Damass of Dueren, appointed as surveyor. Deed drawn up at the 6th January 1586 new style (see below)."

      A ‘kat’ is part of a bastion. It is an earth wall with trees and bushes. Artillery can be placed behind it and also the wall is meant to catch canon balls.

      With ‘new style’ is pointed out that the date has to be read according to the then new Gregorian calendar. Before that time, the Julian calendar was still used, but not in all provinces was the new calendar introduced at the same time.

      Dutch fortifications

        During the Renaissance, relations within society changed which lead to idealizing the city. In the town centre no longer was the church being built, but the town hall, which was symbolic for the shift from clerical to secular power.

        This rational order also affected the building of fortifications. Because of modern weapons, old medieval stone walls were no longer an effective protection for a city.

        The stone walls with towers were gradually replaced with lower earth walls, on which artillery could be placed. In the walls, at regular distances from each other, defensive works, the bastions, were built that were shoved to the outside so that the entire wall could be covered by canons and muskets. The bastion’s type with five points and bended flanks was the most easy to defend.

        The fortifications were developed with the help of modern math. In the current map of Willemstad, the mathematical perfection of the fortifications can still be seen. This fortification method is known as the old-Dutch system, and derived from Italian examples.

        Gates and parcels

          In 1583 it was decided to make walls around Ruigenhil which was strategically situated at the border of the provinces of Holland, Sealand and North Brabant. In 1584, the town of Ruigenhil was granted to William of Orange and from then on was called Willemstad (William’s Town).

          Fortification engineer Abraham Andriesz received orders to plan for the walls. The works were constructed line symmetrical around the old street plan. The existing access road was flanked by two bastions and in the wall the land gate was built.

          On the map you’ll be able to see the land gate and note the names of the parcel’s owners written on the parcels.

          The harbour and the sea

            The new fortifications were completed by Adriaan Anthonisz. In the second stage, these fortifications were even expanded with two bastions outside the dykes, which were for protection of the harbour. The seven bastions were named after the seven provinces of the Dutch Republic.

            On the map you’ll be able to see the result from the development of the fortications.

            The church

              The church as seen on the map had not yet been built in 1586 and also was never built. The building of the current church, with a dome, was only started in 1696. The fortifications are according to the situation of the day.


                The original map is kept by the Brabant Historical Information Centre (BHIC) in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands:

                Text: Christian van der Ven, BHIC
                Pictures: BHIC, except for "Willemstad": Google Maps

                Reference map: BHIC, access no. 343, inventory no. 280

                  Very interesting story Christian! Nice to see you're pioneering on this website as well.

                    Thank you, Yvette! I just like pioneering, I guess! :-) Also, I noticed your comment only now, while I had hoped to receive an e-mail, once someone would comment on any of my uploads. But I guess not.. :-( By the way, I had both story and pictures already done, since I made an interactive display with them in Second Life too, if anyone is interested to check it out.

                      Very interesting and well organized topic page!

                        @tdb708: Thanks so much! It was fun making it.