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Fortress of Bourtange

Fortress of Bourtange from the sky (photo by Bourtange - Creative Commons Licence)


Bourtange is a fortified village of about 1000 inhabitants. It is one of the largest citadels in the Low Countries. Its distinctive star shape, its cobbled streets and well-restored historical architecture make for an interesting day trip.


Streets of Bourtange (© Wim Stolwerk |

The fortress was originally built by William I of Orange from 1580 to 1593, in the midst of the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648), to control the road between Groningen and Germany.

The Spaniards had taken control of Groningen in 1577, following the choice of Count George de Lalaing, stadhouder ("governor") of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe, to support Spain rather than the United Provinces fighting for their independence.

The purpose of the fort was to cut supplies to the Spanish forces stationed in Groningen. It worked, and Groningen was re-captured in 1594.

The fortifications of Bourtange were strengthened several times, notably in 1665 and 1672, in the war against Bernhard von Galen. It reached its maximum extend in 1742.

The drying up of the marsh and the improvement in artillery caused a drastic decline in the use of the fortress. In 1851, the fortified town had its ramparts dismantled, its moats filled up with earth, and its military facilities sold or abandoned. The grounds were restored to their former glory between 1964 and 1973.


How to get there

Bourtange is located right on the German border (the fortress is only a few hundreds metres from Germany), along the German A31 motorway (take exit 17).

Access is easier by car, but if you need to use public transports, take a train from Groningen to Winschoten (35min), then bus No 12 to Vlagtwedde, then change again to bus No 72 for Bourtange.

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