NaardenArticle and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.
In the 17th century the French King Louis XIV'wanted to give France the borders it (according to him) naturally deserved, the northern border being the river Rhine. Helped by his allies (England, Cologne and Munster) Louis XIV invaded the Netherlands in 1672 to accomplish this goal. At this time the Netherlands were an important economic and political power in western Europe and this made an invasion all the more dramatic. The first part of the invasion went smoothly for the French. They captured Utrecht and made it a base to invade the rest of the country from.
They took Naarden easily. Its defence works were old and poorly maintained. Back then Naarden was a small fortified town overlooking a stretch of dry ground between the sea and the marshes of the river Vecht (the fortifications dated from the 1570s). This stretch of land was the only route from the east to Amsterdam and its surrounding lands, making Naarden a strategic fortress. However, the rest of the invasion was a disaster; the Dutch flooded the land between the rivers and the sea (this sea is now the Ijssel lake since it was separated from the sea by a dam in the 1930s - the Afsluitdijk) making it impossible for the French to move forward.
In 1673 Naarden was back in Dutch hands. After this recapture the fortifications were updated to modern standards. Most of the fortifications that exist today date from this period. The fortifications can be separated into two parts: the part facing the sea and the part facing the land.
The landward fortifications consist of arrow-headed bastions'connected by curtain walls, of which the lower sections were made of bricks. The flanks have two levels; the top level is on the top of the bastion and the lower part is just a few metres above the water.
The lower part of the flank, which can be reached through a tunnel from the street behind the bastion gives access to 5 casemates'in the faces of the bastions and a powder magazine. From the lower flank a tunnel leads to a small pier, from which the outworks could be supplied by boat. Beyond the last casemate lies the listening tunnel; a long tunnel along the face of the bastion where guards were able to hear the enemy approaching on the water through holes in the roof.
Next to the tunnel that gives access to the lower part of the flanks, where the curtail walls meet the flanks, are two more cannon bunkers. On some of the bastions the earthwork connecting the two flanks still exists. This earthwork was used to increase the fire power on the front of the bastion.
There are demi-lunes' in the flooded ditch'in front of the curtain walls. The seaward fortifications, apart from being defensive were also part of the sea dam. The bastions here have straight-sided flanks and the curtain wall has two levels.
The lower level can be reached through a tunnel in the middle of the wall. Because of the risk of flooding there are no casemates or tunnels here. On both sides of the tunnel a carving is made to hold a door that could stop the water from flowing into the streets in case of very high water levels.
The large bastion on this side of the town holds the arsenal (now a furniture showroom) as well as a sluice gate. This sluice was used to protect the harbour and to enable ships to come into the town from the sea. Two batardeaux'were built across the ditch to connect the sea dam with the town walls.
Around the whole town there was a covered way'with a second ditch in front of it. The town had two gates, of which both the originals have been demolished. The Amsterdam gate does not exist anymore and the current Utrecht gate dates from the 19th century. In the 20th century a third entrance into the town was made.
During the 19th century the fortifications were updated, resulting in the construction of many new bomb shelters and other army-related buildings like barracks. At the end of the 19th century the increased fire power and range of the artillery made the defences at Naarden useless.
As a consequence of the new strategies used in warfare the emphasis of the fortifications went from the inner to the outer circuit - the covered way. In the 1890s a lot of bomb shelters were built here, most of which still exist. This gives a nice visible illustration of the progression in fortification.
After the First World War the need for Naarden as a fortress was over. The army left and it was turned into a monument and preserved just in time to prevent it from being demolished. You can walk around and inside Naarden freely - the covered way makes an excellent walking path to discover the fortifications.
One of the bastions holds a museum about the fortress, which gives a lot of information about the town's history. The museum also gives access to all the tunnels and casemates, making it a must in exploring the fortress. Naarden can be reached easily by both car and train.