Heemstede Castle: Awaiting a brighter future

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On a freezing January morning in 1987 a fire broke out in a small castle called Heemstede, close to Utrecht. Despite the valiant effort of the many firemen involved and recovery of several items the fire destroyed the building and its precious interiors. Arson for insurance purposes was suspected but never proven. The ruins had to wait till 1999 before a restoration would see the building, if not the interiors, restored to its former appearance by a property development company that would use it as their headquarters. At the time of my visit with the Palatium Summer School the company has gone into liquidation raising the question what future lies in store for this remarkable building.

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Although referred to as castle, this is in fact a house that was newly constructed in 1645 and never saw any military action, nor indeed was it built for it. Its defensive attributes such as the moat and corner turrets are for show, in the same way as at Renswoude and Linschoten. Its location was carefully chosen by the builder, 500 meters to the west of the current house once stood the original Heemstede, an acknowledged ‘Ridderhofstad’. A Ridderhofstad was a term used in the province of Utrecht to denote those old and noble houses that would allow an owner, along with other conditions, to take up a seat as a member in the States of Utrecht. With this came several additional privileges, tax exemption being a particularly desirable one. In 1536 a list was drawn up indicating the 38 houses that enjoyed this privilege, Heemstede was one of them. In building his new house Hendrick Pieck van Wolfsweerd consciously referred to this status by incorporating references to an older style of defensive structure. From the outside it appears that the turrets surround a larger central tower, or donjon. This is not reflected on the interiors however, the donjon only emerges at roof level. This symmetrical little castle in Dutch classicist style was surrounded by formal gardens.

In 1680 the property was acquired by Diederik van Veldhuyzen and it was under his patronage that it achieved its apotheosis. The gardens were greatly extended and altered in the newest fashion by Daniel Marot, who also redesigned many of the interiors almost like a smaller scale version of the work he did at Het Loo. The appearance of the house itself was left unchanged alkthough this was by now old fashioned. This is undoubtedly a reflection of the status that it so successfully projected. A series of prints were made of the gardens by Isaac de Moucheron and Daniel Stopendaal. These gardens became well known and were frequently visited, though they declined during the 18th century and were denuded of many features. The central axis from the house which extends for 1800 meters is still recognizable, albeit intersected by a motorway. During the restoration campaign some elements of the garden were restored as well as the symmetrically placed coach houses that frame the extended central axis.

Time will tell what the future holds, I do hope the restoration of the gardens is part of that future though.

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A birds eye view of the castle and its famous gardens in a hand coloured print by Isaac de Moucheron and Daniel Stopendaal, circa 1685.

 

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One of the many richly decorated interiors of the castle that were tragically lost during the fire.

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The historical images aren’t mine, please click on the images to be redirected to the original source.