Zwolle (pop. 115,000) is the charming capital of the province of Overijssel. The city was built on a hill overlooking four rivers around it : the IJssel, Vecht, Aa and Zwarte Water. It has a compact old town surrounded by a star-shaped moat traversed by the Zwarte Water (literally "black water").
Zwolle boasts one of the only two restaurants in the country to be awarded 3 stars by the Michelin Guide - the Librije.
The region of Zwolle was inhabited since the Neolithic period. The Romans never conquered the part of the Netherlands beyond the Rhine. The Overijssel was the homeland of the Salian Franks since at least the 2nd century. The Franks would migrate south to present-day Belgium in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and give rise to the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties that created the medieval kingdoms of France and Germany.
The oldest written mention of Zwolle dates from 1040. Zwolle was granted city rights in 1230 by the bishop of Utrecht, and joined the powerful Hanseatic league in 1294. Its strategic position on a fluvial network and on a well-sheltered bay made of Zwolle the foremost Hanseatic city in the Netherlands.
After 9 years of war between the Hanseatic League and King Valdemar IV of Denmark, the Treaty of Stralsund (1370) awarded Zwolle a trade colony in Scania, southern Sweden. Zwolle experienced a golden age in the 15th century, and saw its GDP multiplied by six from 1402 to 1450.
In the next centuries, the history of Zwolle follows the history of the Netherlands, with the war of independence against the Spaniards, or the French occupation under Napoleon.
The charm of Zwolle resides its well-preserved architecture, its city gates (notably the Sassenpoort) and city walls, though there aren't many outstanding monuments.
The Stadhuis (town hall) was originally built in 1448, but the modern concrete extension give it an odd appearance. Next to it, the Grote Kerk (lit. "big church"), also known as Sint MichaŽlskerk (St Michael's Church), is the city's main church, although it is nothing exceptional. On the other hand, the former Basilica of Our Lady of the Ascension (Onze Lieve Vrouw ten Hemelopneming-basilica), dating from 1399, has one of the tallest church towers in the Netherlands, and has become a symbol of Zwolle. The tower is known to the locals as the peperbus (peppermill) due to its shape.
The municipal museum has eclectic collections, including some fine historical items related to Zwolle's role as a Hanseatic city. The museum host numerous temporary art exhibitions all year round.
How to get there
Zwolle is on the E232 motorway, about halfway between Utrecht and Groningen. The A50 from Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem terminates a few kilometres south-west of Zwolle.
There are direct trains from Deventer (25min), Groningen (1h), Arnhem (1h), Nijmegen (1h15min), Utrecht (55min) and The Hague (1h40min). Trains to/from Amsterdam (1h15min) require a change at Amersfoort.
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