It must have been the perfect match: a young aristocrat belonging to one of the oldest noble families in the country meets a heiress from one of the richest families in Europe. Through their marriage, she receives a genuine aristocratic title, while he gets access to one of the greatest fortune of its time. The fruit of their union would be a fairy-tale castle, probably the most lavish private residence in the Netherlands after the royal palace Het Loo. The perfect couple was Etienne Gustave Frédéric, Baron van Zuylen, and Hélène de Rothschild. The fairy tale residence is castle De Haar, only a few kilometers away from Utrecht. Visit the place for a quiet week-end afternoon and you will not regret it.
A castle had been in place since the 14th century, but it had fallen into ruin. Using his newly acquired fortune, Etienne van Zuleyn decided to rebuild it. It was meant to be the perfect display a status for a 19th century aristocrat. He chose the most qualified person for the task: Pierre Cuypers, the famous architect of the Rijksmuseum building and the Central Station in Amsterdam, a great admirer of medieval architecture. Besides projecting many historicist monuments himself, he was the main restorer of Dutch historical monuments in the 19th century. As a follower of Viollet-le-Duc, the restorer of Notre-Dame de Paris, his main goal was not so much to renovate historical buildings as they had been, but to remodel them as they should have been. In Castle de Haar, we see today not so much a faithful restoration of the original building, but an ideal medieval castle as Cuypers imagined it. The result is still outstanding.
The project started in 1892, lasted for 20 years and must have cost a fortune. The finished castle had 200 rooms and the most modern installations of its time (electricity, running water, central heating, and elevators).7000 fully grown trees were re-planted to the surrounding park, and a whole village was moved a few kilometers further because it was too close to the building. Such a lavish display of wealth was frowned upon by the Dutch establishment, and apparently the owners were not very well seen in the local high society. Since they were well connected to the European aristocracy, I don’t think they cared much. And while the project cost must have been enormous, it still generates profits today as one of the main tourist attractions in the Utrecht area.
The castle is worth a visit, keeping in mind that it is a 19th century vision of the Medieval past. The photos I posted are only from the exterior, because photos are not allowed inside. I can guarantee however that the interior is just as impressive. Another tip: the castle is the location of one of the craziest festivals in the country, the fantasy festival Elfia De Haar. See below links to the castle and the festival sites: