Did you know that the base of the Dutch Royal Family is situated in Breda? This started back in 1403, when the German Engelbrecht van Nassau Dillenburg came and married the extremely wealthy 11-year-old Johanna van Polanen. The rest is history, and it can still be admired.
Castle of Breda
Where in the world can you find a castle right in the middle of the city? In Breda! In the fourteenth century, Jan van Polanen I had the existing stronghold renovated to make it into a real castle, with towers and a canal. Later, the Castle of Breda became the home of the Nassau family. Hendrik III van Nassau travelled around the south of Europe a lot and was impressed by Italy’s renaissance art. He had the architect Tomasso Vincidor de Bologna come over to renovate the castle and make it into a renaissance palace. In the centuries that followed, much more work was done on the castle, demolishing and rebuilding parts of it. Eventually, when the Royal Military Academy arrived, about two hundred years ago, the castle lost its renaissance appearance.
Grote kerk of Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk
Everybody from Breda instantly feels at home at the sight of the beautiful, almost a hundred-metre tall tower of the Grote Kerk. The church was built to fit the rich, gothic style of Brabant, and it was Hendrik III van Nassau in particular who, in the first half of the sixteenth century, contributed a lot to the building of it. Nine members of the Nassau family and a prince of Orange are buried here, all given beautiful grave monuments. Willem of Orange had also reserved a spot, next to his first wife Anna van Buren and their daughter. Unfortunately, Breda was occupied by Spain when Willem was shot dead in Delft. He, and all the Oranje Naussaus after him, found their final resting place in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.
The city park Valkenberg is one of Breda’s true hotspots these days. With the fountains’ water shimmering in the sunlight, it’s a place where hikers go to cool down, resting on one of the benches by the pond. Students come here to enjoy the sun or play football. Chickens and geese are always trying to get in on one of the picnics and kids can enjoy themselves in the playground. It’s a huge contrast to the time, over a hundred years ago, when the park belonged to Breda’s Castle. The castle’s residents and their guests used it for falconry, whilst the women were going for walks between the seventeen statues.
John F. Kennedylaan
When you enter the gate into the Begijnhof, it’s hard to imagine you’re in the heart of the city. It’s so peaceful! The only sound is that of singing birds, and the hundreds of types of herbs are spreading a fantastic scent. The history of Breda’s beguine community dates back 750 years. Back then, the begijnhof was situated right by the Castle of Breda, but Hendrik III van Nassau had it moved when he was expanding the castle and its garden in the sixteenth century. The beguines moved reluctantly to the current location in 1535. From there, they did ‘their good works’ in education and health care. The last beguine, sister Frijters, died in 1990, but still today there is only single ladies living on the Begijnhof.
The story goes that the Spanjaardsgat was the place where skipper Adriaan van Bergen arrived on his peat barge in 1590 and sailed into the castle. Prince Maurits’ soldiers, who were hidden below a pile of peat, freed Breda of the Spaniards this way. In reality, that place was situated a lot further down the Academie canal. Moreover, there wasn’t even a gate between the two towers of the Spanjaardsgat in those days. These two seven-sided towers can still be admired today and are now part of the grounds of the Royal Military Academy. In the Duiven tower, where Willem van Oranje’s carrier pigeons used to be kept, there’s now a protestant chapel and a visitor centre. The Granaat tower is now used as a catholic chapel and a catering facility for the military’s cadets.