Famous in the whole world for its cheese, Gouda (pop. 72,000) also boast one of the nicest town halls in the Netherlands as well as some of the best stained glass windows in all Europe.
In medieval times, Gouda was situated in a swampy area covered with a peat forest and crossed by small creeks such as the Gouwe. Peat harvesting began in the 11th and 12th centuries. In the 13th century, the Gouwe was connected to the Old Rhine by a canal, and a harbour developed at its mouth. The van der Goude family built a fortified castle alongside the banks of the Gouwe River, which gave its name to the town and the family.
Gouda was granted city rights in 1272 by Floris V, Count of Holland. The city was destroyed by fires in 1361 and 1438. It was occupied and damaged by the Sea Beggars (rebels from noble families opposing the Spanish regime) in 1572. The castle was demolished in 1577.
In 1574, 1625, 1636, and 1673, Gouda suffered from deadly Plague epidemics, the last of which killing 2995 people, or 20% of the population at the time. This caused alternate economic upheavals, further worsened by the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648). The situation improved between 1700 and 1730. Afterwards, other recessions led to a long period of decline lasting until the middle of the 19th century. During that period, Gouda had become so poor that the terms "Goudaner" and "beggar" were considered synonymous.
The city walls were pulled down between 1830 and 1854. In 1855, the railway linking Gouda to Utrecht began to operate. New companies, such as the Stearine Kaarsenfabriek (Stearine Candle Factory) and the Machinale Garenspinerij (Mechanized Yarn Spinnery), acted as the impetus to the local economy. Large-scale development started beyond the city walls at the beginning of the 20th century. In the 1940's, parts of the canals were filled up in spite of protests from the local population.
Nowadays, Gouda is first and foremost renowed for its cheese, still sold on the market every Thursday, but also for its candles, smoking pipes, and syrup waffles.
The Market Square (Markt) is the heart of the city's activity. The main shopping street passes through the north-western side of the square, and market is still held several days per week. The square is dominated by the splendid Gothic town hall (stadhuis), built between 1448 and 1450.
Just behind the town hall, the so-called Waag (scale house), dating from 1667, was formerly used for weighing goods (especially cheese) to levy taxes. It now houses a museum retracing the history of cheese trade.
South of the Markt is the 16th-century Great St. John's Church (Grote Sint Janskerk), the largest cross-shaped church in the Netherlands. The main reason to visit the church (and pay the admission fee) is to see its famed stained glass windows, created between 1530 and 1603, an which are considered to be among the finest in the world. The works were sponsored by rich noble families from the whole of the Habsburgian Netherlands (modern Belgium included), as testify the coat of arms at the bottom of each window. The most significant windows were designed by Dirick (Theodore) and Wouter (Walter) Crabeth, as well as Lambert van Noort, between 1550 and 1570.
Other attractions in town include the Waaiersluis (historic lock on the Hollandse IJssel), the Harbour Museum Gouda (Museumhaven Gouda), the Gouda Museum (local history), De Verborgen Tijd Museum (modern art), the De Moriaan Museum (national pharmaceutical museum), and the Verzets Museum (about Dutch resistance during WWII).
How to get there
Gouda is located in the middle of the triangle formed by Rotterdam, Leiden and Utrecht. It is easily accessible by car through the E25 between Rotterdam (25km) and Utrecht (40km), or by the E30 from Delft (35km). Coming from Amsterdam (70km) or Leiden (35km), take the E19 to Delft, then the E30.
There are frequent trains from/to Den Haag (20min), Rotterdam (20min), Utrecht (20min) or Amsterdam (50min). Trains from Leiden or Delft require a change at Den Haag.
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