Johannes Vermeer’s painting of Delft circa 1660. I saw this painting last week in the Mauritzhuis Museum

Today I went with Yvonne and young Thomas to see the lovely old city of Delft. Home to Vermeer and Delft Blue pottery, this city has developed from a town in medieval times to a city of about 100 000 people.

Here we visited the Nieuwe Kerk where William of Orange has a magnificent tomb. They began to build the church in 1396 and finished it a hundred years later. The thing that I liked the  most about William of Orange’s tomb was that at the feet of his marble effigy, the sculptor added a sleeping dog. The rest of the royal family is buried in the crypt beneath the church.

As my first large European Church, it was a great experience. I found the fact that people were buried in graves below the church floor quite unusual but have since learned that this is a practise that happened all over Europe. I like the different tombstones that make up the floor. Many have lost the detail of their carvings over the last few centuries from many visiting feet passing over them. I also love the dramatic use of skulls in so many of the memorial designs.

From the Nieuwe Kerk, we walked out onto the main city square which is surrounded by many lovely old houses- I do love old houses. Across from the church is the picturesque town hall.

From the square, we walked along the canal and headed to the Oude Kerk. With its very obviously leaning tower and 400 year old build schedule, I though that it might make for an exciting episode of Grand Designs – Historical Edition. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia describing the history of the building:

The Oude Kerk was founded as St. Bartholomew‘s Church in the year 1246, on the site of previous churches dating back up to two centuries earlier. The layout followed that of a traditional basilica, with a nave flanked by two smaller aisles.

The tower with its central spire and four corner turrets was added between 1325–50, and dominated the townscape for a century and a half until it was surpassed in height by the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). It is possible that the course of the adjacent canal had to be shifted slightly to make room for the tower, leaving an unstable foundation that caused the tower to tilt.

By the end of the 14th century, expansion of the side aisles to the height of the nave transformed the building into a hall church, which was rededicated to St. Hippolytus. The church again took on a typical basilican cross-section with the construction of a higher nave between about 1425 and 1440.

The Delft town fire of 1536 and the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation brought a premature end to an ambitious expansion project led by two members of the Keldermans family of master builders. This construction phase resulted in the flat-roofed, stone-walled northern transept arm that differs markedly in style from the older parts.

The great fire, iconoclasm, weather, and the explosion of the town’s gunpowder store in 1654 (see Delft Explosion) took their toll on the church and its furnishings, necessitating much repair work over the years. During one renovation, the tower turrets were rebuilt in a more vertical alignment than the leaning body below, giving the tower as a whole a slightly kinked appearance. The current stained-glass windows were crafted by the master glazier Joep Nicolas in the mid-20th century.

A nice surprise in the Oude Kerk was to stumble upon the grave of Johannes Vermeer- one of Delft’s most famous citizens.

After the church, Yvonne and I went and had some Coca Cola at a little coffee house (note not coffee shop) next to a canal while Thomas caught a quick nap in his pram. Whilst walking around the town, we had noticed a little boat tour on the gracht (city-canal) and decided to go along on the next one. With luck, we arrived a few minutes before the next one was due to leave and because we were accompanied by a baby in a pram, we got the best seat on the boat. I really enjoyed seeing the city centre from this new angle. We passed a butter tunnel (a tunnel linking 2 grachten that is not open where they used to store the butter) and William of Orange’s escape hatch from his court / home. We also saw Europe’s smallest museum and a house with no front door. Due to the old window tax law, only the windows on the front of the house (or the side that had a front door) were taxed. So a smart chap decided to just do away with his front door. I really do wonder at how the logistics worked for such a manoeuvre.

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