Campaign to save Delft’s historic Agathaplein

The attraction of Delft, apart from its undoubted beauty is its history – not only the fine buildings and picturesque canals, but also areas like the Agathaplein with its old convent garden and the historically significant Prinsenhof.

This small enclosed area is one of the most beautiful and certainly most historic places in the city – the Prinsenhof is where William of Orange was assassinated, thus setting in train events which resulted in the creation of the country we now know as the Netherlands. Consequently it is one of the most important historic and tourist sites in Delft – but not only that, the adjacent convent cloister-style garden with its rows of box hedges provides a haven of beauty and tranquillity.

But now, the City Council and the powers that be have a cunning plan to increase tourism and, of course, revenue. They intend to radically change the whole thing including destroying most of the wonderful garden. Opposition to the scheme is mounting as was demonstrated by the five hundred or so local residents, young and old, who voiced their opinions at a protest rally in the Agathaplein on Sunday 22nd July.

The Agathaplein, shaded by old chestnut trees, with its gated old convent garden, a green oasis of calm and contemplation in the centre of which stands a statue of William of Orange, is one of those places where, with every step, you are propelled back through the centuries.

In historical records the Agatha monastery and its garden was mentioned as early as 1400. Its square is the last restful place in the centre of this much loved, but also much visited town by an increasing number of tourists. But sitting in the café at the corner of the square, one sees relatively few of the latter. Not fifty meters away and adjoining the square, is the Prinsenhof where William of Orange spent the last days of his life before being shot on the stairs in 1584. The hole from the assassin’s bullet still sits deep in the wall and is proudly pointed out to visitors from all over the world.

The Agathaplein is accessed from the Oude Kirk (Old Church) end by two ancient stone arches, one of which the new plans intend to block off. They also propose the destruction of some gables, of the old enclosure wall as well as the railings separating the monastery garden from the cobbled square. The plan also includes the destruction of the box hedges of the garden, the felling of some of the old trees.

The garden will be reduced to a strip of grass on one side, and the statue of William will be moved from pride of place in the centre of the garden to its edge in order to make room for the eating and drinking party-goers. On the other side, two raised ‘grassed’ platforms will serve as a ‘multi-functional’ podium of sorts.

The new, opened-up Agathaplein will then become a ‘festival’ area – that is expensive drinks and food, dancing and loud music.

The acquisition by the museum of some of the monastery garden will allow an extension of the museum’s café terrace which at the moment sits along its back wall, with currently very restricted opening times and no visible effort to make it work – although, even as it is, there is enormous untapped potential.

I have lived here for nearly two years now and have witnessed a worrying trend – lots of normal, everyday shops have closed only to be replaced by cafés and fast food outlets who equip their delivery staff with noisy scooters who wreck the calm and safety of the night as they race through the narrow streets delivering pizzas.

In order to make a quick buck from  booze and tourism, the awesome giant of greed is stealthily bestriding the most beautiful places all over Europe, crushing everything in his path. Any place worth seeing for its beauty and history is rapidly becoming a theme park thereby destroying the very thing the tourists have come to see and, what is worse, making the place an undesirable and unaffordable place to live for the locals.

City councils worldwide, and it seems sadly in Delft too, are seemingly easily seduced by developers who promise them piles of money. It remains to be seen whether the Delft council is true to the ethic of which the the Dutch are so proud – that consultation and cooperation is one of their greatest strengths. As was demonstrated by Sunday’s protest and the hundreds of signatures on a huge canvas – many ‘Delftenars’ are hoping for common sense to prevail and for the council to see the folly of its plan.

For further reading on the subject I recommend the Aesop fable The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs.      Astrid Burchardt, 22nd July 2018


Photo by Marcel de Jong