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Haarlem’s history

Haarlem City Map of 1646

The Netherlands is full of cities with a rich history, making them popular as tourist destinations.  One such city is Haarlem, pronounced Harlem in the English language.  It is also the provincial capital of North Holland.  Its population is slightly over 150,000.  As far as actual cityhood, Haarlem has had that status since the year 1245.

Now as to its rich history, well that goes all the way back to the pre-medieval ages.  For a time, owing to its position in regards to the ocean, Haarlem was able to collect toll charges from people travelling through the area.  But as shipping became more economically beneficial, Haarlem was replaced by Amsterdam as the major financial player in the Netherlands, thereby reducing Haarlem to a cozy quiet community.

In the long run this turned out to be a good thing.  Most of Haarlem’s medieval buildings have remained intact.  In fact, quite a few of them are regarded as Rijksmonuments in the Dutch Heritage register.

The name Haarlem itself has origins dating back to the 10th century.  Through the following centuries it saw its share of rulers, counts and so forth taking over the city.  One drawback the city had was that all of its buildings were constructed from wood, thereby making them prone to damage by fire.  This is in fact what happened in 1328 when the entire city burnt to the ground.  That wasn’t the last of the fires either.  Haarlem was hit again in 1347 and 1351.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, an estimated 5,000 people lost their lives to the plague known as the Black Death in 1381.  That constituted approximately half of the city’s entire population.  For the next couple of hundred years it was under the rule of various entities, including the Spaniards for a spell.

Once the Spaniards were gone, while Haarlem still saw its share of occupations by foreigners it nonetheless was able to thrive culturally.  The inhabitants of Haarlem proved to be expert in linens, silk and beer making.

World War II saw the city under siege by the Germans who used much of the area as a defensive line.  The war took its toll on Haarlem and it was never the same after the end of it with many industries moving out of the city elsewhere.

However, it is still rich in cultural tradition and receives a good deal of tourists each and every year.  It also has a thriving sports scene and is in fact home to many international tournaments annually.