The monumental capital
Historic Middelburg just oozes ‘capital’: political, administrative, cultural – and financial (in old money). The capital of Zeeland is known as a monumental town, with a wealth of historical buildings. Their facades reflect, some even glow, their former wealth. Today, a rich blend of events, shops and bars and restaurants make it a lively place, coveted by locals and visitors alike.
The name comes from being the middle borough (‘middelste burcht’) on Walcheren island in the 9th century. This was the time of the Viking invasions of Europa and defensive ramparts were built around the island, so the central settlement acquired the name Middelburg. Once the invaders had been seen off, the town developed as a thriving trading hub. A town charter was granted in 1217.
During the days of the Dutch East India Company (‘VOC’) Middelburg was second only to Amsterdam as the most important town in the Netherlands. In the space of two centuries, some 300 sea-faring ships were built in the town’s shipyards. Everywhere in the town centre you’ll see buildings which evoke the golden days of the trade with Asia in spices, cloth and ceramics.
Until several decades ago, Middelburg was also second only to Amsterdam in terms of housing the most historic buildings. Today, there are still 1,100 national monuments in the centre, having survived the very destructive times of the Second World War. In one bombardment in 1940, much of the town was ravaged to the ground. After the war, the city was rebuilt in traditional style.
Until 1574, the Abbey of Middelburg was a monastery. This ended after the Siege of Middelburg, and the Abbey was taken over by the governing body of Zeeland. Today’s provincial authorities still operate from it. Next to it in the same compound are the Zeeuws Museum and the Roosevelt Study Center.
The museum’s rich collection on the history of the province includes a set of unique and world-famous tapestries depicting sea battles in the 16th century. In addition, the museum regularly hosts temporary exhibitions of some note.
Also part of the Abbey complex are the Koorkerk, the Nieuwe Kerk and the iconic Lange Jan tower. You’ll see its 90 metres soaring about the town from a great distance away. If you come in the summer, take your time to climb the 207 steps up to a spectacular view over the town and the entire island of Walcheren.
The former town hall of Middelburg is on the Markt square. The oldest parts of this Late Gothic building date from 1458. Its façade shows images of the earls and ladies who have ruled Zeeland. Nowadays, the building is used as a wedding location and is home to the University College Roosevelt. Another part of the town hall is the Vleeshal, now an internationally renowned gallery of modern visual art, with works from far and near.
Heading down the Lange Vielle shopping street, the striking Kloveniersdoelen building begs for a special look at its Flemish gables. Built in 1607, it has served as a place for target practice for marksmen (‘kloveniers’) and as a military hospital. At present, it is home to a film-house and a restaurant.
Very much its own boss, Middelburg has a distinctive character. Each of the various squares has its own personality, and the shopping streets are full of national brands and local businesses. In the area of the Markt in particular, you’ll find rafts of cafés and restaurants where you can sit out on the terraces until late.
The weekly market is on a Thursday, and there’s a whole bucketful of regular special markets, including art, antiques and crafts; a second-hand book market, a fruit-and-veg market, a flea market and a night-time one. For full up-to-date listings, check the Events Calendar.
A guided town walklets you see Middelburg from a special perspective. A complementary option is to take a tour boat along the old canals.
There are special events happening all year round, often in and near the centre. Check the listings on the Events Calendar. Tip: the Mosselfeesten will also fill you with music. Or stay longer, for the City of Dance party and parade, which has now established itself as a full three-day music festival for all tastes.