The fortified town of Heusden, population 1,500, has completely restored its enormous fortifications and has 122 buildings on the Rijksmonument List of national heritage sites. Located in Noord-Brabant on the Bergse Maas, which is a canal built in 1904 and a tributary of the Maas River, it has a rich history.
In the late 1960s, the city began a thorough restoration, which resulted in Heusden being awarded the “Urbes Nostrae” (Our City) prize in 1980 from the “Europa Nostra” (not to be confused with the Cosa Nostra). It is the highest European award given to a historic town for restoring its natural heritage and culture. The Europa Nostra (Our Europe) is a non-profit that preserves and promotes Europe’s heritage, while the Cosa Nostra (Our Thing) is a for-profit organization that preserves and promotes nefarious things.
Why visit Vestingstad Heusden?
Heusden has picturesque streets, historic buildings, art galleries, boutiques, shops, a quaint old harbor, windmills and restaurants, giving it the feel of a storybook village encircled by mucho moats.
The town originated around one of the oldest moated castles in northwestern Europe and was one of the first Dutch cities to be surrounded by a wall. The first mention of Heusden dates to 722, as “Hunsata Super Fluvium Mosam” (loosely translated from Latin: A Super Place to Visit on Your Day Off). Heusden castle and its moat dates to the 12th century. Today it’s a ruin and a children’s playground; an inventive repurposing of an old war-torn castle. In the 1330s the viscount of Heusden (a Medieval Trump type) decided to build a wall with watchtowers at three city gates to defend the city from illegal aliens.
From the end of the 16th century, Heusden was home to thousands of soldiers as a garrison town that revolted against the revolting Spanish occupiers. During the 1600s, the city extended its fortifications by building additional earthen ramparts, bastions, canals, islands, and ravelins. So, for the most part, it still looks the same today without the barracks and rowdy soldiers.
Impact of the Second World War on Vestingstad Heusden
The Second World War brought much damage and suffering. Acclaimed as one of the most beautiful city halls in the country, the Germans destroyed it and massacred 134 Dutch citizens who were hiding in the building. The town went into decline after the war and plans were made to demolish the entire town and build condos, a casino and a McDonald’s. Luckily, in the 60s an enlightened civilized group of Dutch people restored the entire town and its fortifications.
Now the fortress town of Heusden is again “Hunsata Super Fluvium Mosam” (A Super Place to Visit…: a very loose translation) and a great destination for lovers of art, culture, history, water sports, good food and drinks. There are plenty eateries, but I suggest stopping at Brouwcafe Kareltje that has a very tasty local beer and an old-time, rustic ambience and having lunch or dinner at the original De Pannekoekenbakker restaurant with its menu of unique and interesting pancake offerings, a different one for almost every day of the year.
So, visit the “comeback kid of almost forgotten fortified towns,” Heusden.
Have you ever been to Vestingstad Heusden? Let us know in the comments!