A Renaissance City Palace

Bergen op Zoom, a quiet town close to the Belgian border, has a big surprise to offer to its visitors: the Markiezenhof, one of the best preserved Renaissance monuments in the Netherlands. In the 15th and 16th century, the lords of Bergen op Zoom were one of the most powerful families in the country. During the reign of Jan II van Glymes (1417–1494), the city reached the peak of its prosperity. Large fairs were held twice a year, and merchants from all over Europe came to Bergen op Zoom to sell their goods. The ruling family eventually received the title of marquis from emperor Charles V, and occupied imprtant positions in the government of Habsburg Netherlands.

The Markiezenhof was built to serve as a testimony of their power. The building work started in 1485, supervised by two of the best architects in the Low Countries at that time: Antoon I Keldermans and Rombout II Keldermans from Mechelen. It was completed three decades later, although further improvements would be added to the palace for another 200 years.

The building remained in the hands of various noble families until the end of the 18th century. By that time, the prosperity of Bergen op Zoom was just a memory. The modernization of trade techniques, the long war with Spain and difficult access to the local harbor had caused the economic decline of the town since the middle of the 16th century. The Markiezenhof was taken over by the French army after the invasion of 1795, to be used as a hospital and later as barracks. It kept this role also later, until the 1950’s, when it was handed over to the municipality of Bergen op Zoom. It was carefully restored in the following decades and opened as a museum in 1987.

What makes it special? First of all the size: it is indeed one of the largest city- palaces in the country. Then, the beauty of the building itself, similar to Renaissance monuments found further South, in Bruges or Ghent. Finally, the well maintained garden and carefully restored interiors, from the late medieval main hall to the fashionable 18th century rooms upstairs. The Markiezenhof was included in 1990 on the list of the top 100 Dutch monuments, a well-deserved position for such a unique place.

Here is a link to the palace’s website:

http://www.markiezenhof.nl/en/

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