About Fortress Naarden

History of our fortified city

Construction of Fortress Naarden

Naarden was founded by the Count of Holland in 1350 on a stretch of ground that overlooked the only route from the east to the province of Holland. Due to its strategic location, Naarden was granted the right to build a defensive perimeter around the city. As Amsterdam grew in importance and Naarden’s strategic value increased, the town’s defences were continually upgraded to meet advancements in military technology.

The medieval city walls were destroyed long ago, but Naarden still has fortifications from the 17th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The military buildings from these different periods have almost all been restored, making Naarden one of the best remaining examples of defensive architecture in Europe.

The French invasion of 1672

In 1672, when the French King, Louis XIV, invaded the Dutch Republic, Naarden was quickly captured. But, at the very last minute, the Dutch breached the dykes and flooded the land to the west of the town. This proved to be a smart move. The French were blocked by an impassable barrier of water and mud, and forced to withdraw. This was the beginning of the famous Old Dutch Waterline in which Naarden played a prominent role.

After the siege with Naarden back in Dutch hands, the fortifications were completely redesigned and Naarden took on its characteristic star shape. The new fortifications were completed in 1685. Since then, the fortress has remained virtually untouched.

Naarden and the New Dutch Waterline

In the early 19th century, under the rule of Napoleon, plans were made to modernise the Old Dutch Waterline and extend the line east to include Utrecht. After the final defeat of Napoleon, the plans were carried out by King William I, and the New Dutch Waterline was born. Naarden also played a prominent role in the new waterline. For a long time, the fortifications were considered sufficiently strong and were left more or less untouched. This changed with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it became clear that warfare had radically evolved. The New Dutch Water Line and Fortress Naarden had to be modernised.

A Change in defence

The 19th century was a period of great technological advances, not least in military technology. These developments had a profound impact on the design of fortifications. The introduction in 1860 of rifling (i.e. helical grooves cut into gun barrels that cause projectiles to spin), had a massive impact on the range, accuracy, and penetration power of artillery. Unprotected masonry structures were easily destroyed. To protect walls and buildings from artillery fire, they were covered with a thick layer of protective earth. After 1873, all the buildings built in Naarden were designed to be bomb proof from the ground up. Only the monumental facades were left visible. These faced away from the attacker and were out of reach of enemy fire.

The Fortress loses its military function

Naarden was a garrison town and the ever-present army had an important impact on city life. Military grounds were fenced off behind barbed wire: its walls strictly out of bounds for ordinary inhabitants. Because the army had to have clear sight of the enemy and an unobstructed field of fire, large swathes of land around Naarden were commandeered. Conditions for building on these ‘schootvelden’, were laid out in the 1851 Kringenwet and there was always a risk that any building erected within a certain radius of Naarden would be demolished at the first hint of war.

The heavy artillery of the First World War marked the end of Naarden’s role as a fortress, and the city ceased to serve a military function in 1926.

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