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Castles in Friesland

Friesland has been dotted with stately homes and estates since the Middle Ages. They are mainly distinctly Frisian buildings, called stinsen, meaning a rectangular stone house. These were mainly built to be the residences of people who fulfilled important functions, such as mayors and other officials. These prominent families had connections with the Frisian stadhouders of the family Nassau who resided in Leeuwarden, the provincial centre. The families that owned the estates lived in the city in winter which helped them to maintain necessary social contacts, and inhabited the country estates in summer.

The houses often sported towers and thick walls surrounding them for protection. The building was L-shaped or had a more complex layout. These fortified estates already appeared in the 15th century. Later the house and the surrounding estate was united into a harmonious whole, often with the help of canals and moats. The grounds could be reached by a long entrance way, such as the one still visible at the De Klinze estate in Aldtsjerk. At the end of the path there was a bridge or a gate. There are eight gate buildings remaining from those times in Friesland, for example at Heringastate in Marssum.

The castle grounds were developed into landscape gardens. Starting from the 18th century the style in Friesland was to make the gardens seem as untouched and natural as possible. Ponds were dug and the ground taken from the beds was used to make mounds and little hills into the garden, crossed by bridges, as can be seen at Staniastate in Oentsjerk. The winding ponds were accompanied by flowerbeds and trees. These gave the gardens a romantic appearance. One of the most employed landscape designers in Friesland was Lucas Pieters Roodbaard, who is responsible for the gardens at De Klinze, Vijversburg and Staniastate. His talent for laying out picturesque gardens was used for many different gardens spread out over Friesland.
The most important room inside these stately homes was often the main hall, where the family portraits could be found, as in Dekemastate in Jelsum. There are few of these kinds of mansions left both because of the tumultous times of the Middle Ages and the nobility largely leaving the province in the 18th and 19th century. However, some of these kinds of traditional estates are still visible around Leeuwarden.

Friesland, Netherlands

Friesland landscapeFriesland (or Fryslân) is the largest province of the Netherlands, situated in the northwest coast of the Netherlands along the North Sea. It is a rural province, consisting of flat landscape and farmland. The area also has many lakes and Frisians are keen sailors. Friesland has historically developed separately from the rest of the Netherlands, having been a kingdom of its own in the Middle Ages, and the original inhabitants speak Frisian, a language separate from Dutch but nevertheless related to it, although nowadays all Frisians are bilingual in Dutch.

Since the 15th century, Friesland has been a part of the Netherlands. Frisian is now even the second official language of the Netherlands. Frisian place names are often presented both in Frisian and in Dutch, sometimes, however, they appear only in Frisian, something to bear in mind when travelling around the province. Friesland has 642,000 inhabitants. The area has many historical estates and stately homes, many of them situated around the province’s capital, Leeuwarden (in Frisian, Ljouwert), reachable in 2,5 hours by train from Amsterdam.

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