Brielle

Article and pictures (unless specified) by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.

In the Netherlands Brielle is best known for its role in the 80 Years War, during which the Dutch provinces fought against Spain for religious liberty, resulting in the independent Dutch republic (confirmed by the Treaty of Munster, signed in 1648).

On April 1st 1572 the Sea Beggar'Admiral Lumey decided to pillage the town. His fleet was waiting to attack in the nearby waters when a local ferry man, named Coppelstock, saw the fleet and went aboard to find out why they had come.

Together with officer Bloys van Treslong (one of Lumey's men) Coppelstock convinced Lumey to take the town in a more peaceful way and declare it for Prince William of Orange. Following the taking of Brielle, many other Dutch cities declared themselves independent from Spain.

The capture of Brielle started a chain of events that lead to the independence of the Netherlands. It also makes Brielle the first independent city in the Netherlands. Every year on April 1st festivities are held in the town to commemorate the historic moment. The current fortifications mainly date from the early 18th century (1702 - 1716).

The Dutch engineer Menno Van Coehoorn'played an important role in the design of the fortress, which was built according to the Old Dutch System: The walls are made of earth and the flanks of the bastions are placed perpendicular to the curtain walls.

Only the walls facing the sea are made of bricks. This system was effective (the earth absorbs the energy of the cannonballs), easy to build and cheap. This system was conceived by Simon Stevin, a mathematician born in Brugge in the 16th century.

Brielle has always been a port situated close to the sea and the waterways connected with the Dutch and Belgian canals. The canal connecting the city to the river Maas is cut of from the rest of the ditch surrounding the city, by two dams; this prevented the surrounding lands from flooding at high tide.

It also provided the city with a means to regulate the water level in the ditch or flood the surrounding lands. The canal runs all the way through the city and has a sluice at the end coming out in the ditch. The other arm of the canal goes into the city to form a harbor.

The town's fortifications consist of a trace of nine bastions, with four demi-lunes'in the ditch'protecting the four gates of the city. Of these four, nowadays only the Langepoort remains. It was restored in the 1970s to its 1799 appearance.

The road leading into the town is not straight but oblique, which prevented enemy fire from going straight through the gate and into the town.

The walls are overgrown with grass and trees. This overgrowth gave the walls extra strength and prevented the walls from eroding - the roots of the plants bind the soil, preventing movement. The trees also provided shelter for the defenders and the branches prevented the gunpowder smoke from dissipating quickly.

This meant that when the defenders fired their guns, the smoke lingered above the walls, making it harder for enemy to target them. In the middle of the ditch a small trench called a cuvette'was dug, making it a little deeper in the middle. Wading through the ditch became more difficult because of this.

Visiting Brielle

The earthworks are in very good condition. Their profile gives a clear impression of how the defenders were covered by the walls and were able to move around without being visible to the enemy.

In the 19th century a lot of bomb shelters were made that are still visible today. The fortifications of Brielle were declassified in 1952 and the town and it's fortifications can be visited for free today. Brielle can be reached easily by car, but there is no train station there. The local tourist office has information about the fortifications and has a small museum.

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