Art in the seventeenth century in Holland is known as the Dutch Golden Age and in Delft there was a school of painters, the most famous of whom was Johannes Vermeer and acting on the recommendation of fellow blogger Richard Tulloch (http://richardtulloch.wordpress.com/) one thing that I definitely wanted to do today was to visit the Vermeer House museum.
Although this wasn’t actually the house in which he lived, there aren’t any of his original paintings and none of the exhibits are particularly authentic (stay with me here, I’m not trying to put you off) this is a very fine museum indeed with good reproductions, excellent displays and insightful interpretations of the work of the artist who is the acknowledged master of light and shade and we enjoyed an hour or so walking through the three main rooms of the museum learning about his materials and his techniques, his influences, style and legacy – it was all well worth the price of the admission.
It was after midday now and time for a break so we walked through the back streets of the city across cracked and broken pavements past the reflections of tall buildings in the inky waters of the brackish canals and back to the market place where we selected a bar and sat with a couple of glasses of local beer and congratulated ourselves on our excellent decision to come here.
It was still sunny outside but it was turning cooler and after an examination of the map we tried to find the Vermeer walk which supposedly takes visitors on a route that Vermeer himself would have known and recognised. Well, not exactly as he would have remembered it to be honest because in 1654 Delft was destroyed by a careless accident when the town’s gunpowder store exploded during a stock take by the store man and razed most of the city to the ground.
Quite what caused the catastrophic blast no one really knows but seventeenth century gunpowder was particularly volatile and needed a great deal of care when handling it so you wouldn’t, for example, want to be smoking a pipe or wearing hob nail boots or anything else for that matter that could create a rogue spark that could send the stuff off in a massive explosion.
It is estimated that there was almost fifty tonnes of gunpowder in the store (that’s roughly twice as much as Guy Fawkes was preparing to use to blow up the Houses of Parliament) and it made such a loud bang that the explosion was heard as far away as Amsterdam and beyond. One thing for sure is that when that lot went up you’d certainly be wanting to stand well back because this was one of the biggest non-natural explosions of the pre-nuclear age that killed over a hundred people and wounded thousands more.
Our route now took us south east alongside one of the quieter minor canals until we reached the high turrets of the Gothic East Gate which is the only remaining part of the old city walls that were demolished in the nineteenth century as the city expanded.
This is an exceptionally attractive part of the city next to the main canal and set amongst gardens and tree lined walkways and we followed one of these back towards the city centre though narrow streets and across canal bridges until we arrived at the Oude Kerk (Old Church) where we bought our combined ticket for this and the Nieuwe Kerk and went inside.
Compared to a Roman Catholic Cathedral the Protestant Oude Kerk was rather barren and bare with grey stone columns, old fashioned wooden pews and plain walls with the only decoration coming from the huge stained glass windows on all sides so once we had found the burial plaque commemorating the final resting place of Johannes Vermeer we left and walked under the seventy-five metre high bell tower which, as it is out of true by an alarming two metres at the top is the Delft equivalent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
As we followed the line of another lazy canal I was becoming slowly more captivated by the charming city of Delft which seemed to me to be rather like a scaled down version of the Dutch capital and because I liked it so much I started to hatch a new travel plan…
I like Amsterdam but it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe so it is naturally busy and expensive and in the stampede to get there wonderful places like this get bypassed and overlooked so next time I take a ferry to Rotterdam, possibly in the Spring, I will stay here instead, see all the things that I couldn’t possibly see in just one day and then use the railways to visit the other smaller towns and cities of South Holland and with that plan already almost 90% complete we set off to visit the Nieuwe Kerk.