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History of Zwolle

Old map of Zwolle in 1652

Upon a hilltop overlooking the four rivers that course around it, lays Zwolle, the capital city of the Overijssel province in the Netherlands. This charming and picturesque area has been host to millennia of history, with roots that trace back to the Bronze Age, but Zwolle has grown and matured into a beautiful and modern destination city.

Through archaeological finds, Zwolle has been shown to be inhabited since at least some time in the Bronze Age. With the discovery of a Woodhenge in the Zolle-Zuid suburb in 1993, historians can now determine that Zwolle has been populated as far back as 1700-500 BC. Details on the people behind that structure are still being discovered, which creates something of a gap between those individuals and the first known population of Zwolle, the Salian Franks- during the Roman era.

The Salian Franks or Salii were a subset of the Franks who had been living in the area north of the Rhine. Known as Laeti, or allies of the Roman Empire, they were a warlike Germanic people and pirates that stayed in the favor of the Romans. This alignment allowed them to become the first Germanic tribe of their kind to create a settlement on Roman lands.

Zwolle began its formation into the modern city that we know now, when it was formally founded in 800 A.D. by Frisian merchants and troops of Charlemagne. The area was named Zwolle, which comes from the word Suolle, meaning “hill”. This was an important aspect of this new area for its founders, as the hill was the only area of the land that wasn’t prone to constant flooding. However being surrounded by the Ijssel, Vecht, Aa and Zwarte rivers made it a prime location to establish in for merchants and trade.

The city was finally granted its “city rights” by the Bishop of Utrecht in 1230, this lead to their inclusion in the Hanseatic league; eventually earning Zwolle a Vitte (trade colony) in Sweden. Growth and development came swiftly, leading to the golden age of Zwolle in the 16th century- when population grew 600%. Architecture and design took off in this period, seeing the renovation of SintMichaëlskerk- a church dedicated to Saint Michael. The church still stands to this day, in part due to the renovations of this period and attention paid to the structure. Otherwise known as the Grote, the church features a gorgeous carved pulpit, exquisite wood carvings and a much-envied organ.

Zwolle continued to grow and build upon its achievements up through the centuries; living up to the promise of its potential as a superior trade location. By 1911 Zwolle had become a trade powerhouse due to being located at the crux of four rivers, and they lorded over many markets. The river city held dominance over the fish market, and became the most important cattle market in all of the Netherlands, excluding Rotterdam. Other industries that set up shop in the hilltop city included cotton manufacturing, iron works, boat building, dyeing and bleaching, tanning, rope-making and salt-making.

Modern Zwolle is a diverse and beautiful city that stands as a monument to prosperity and perseverance. A visitor’s paradise, Zwolle is the perfect location for a weekend trip that includes shopping, site-seeing, and wonderful restaurants. Outstanding amongst those restaurants is De Librije, one of only two restaurants in the entire country to have been honored with 3 stars by the Michelin Guide.

All of the attractions of Zwolle speak to the continued evolution of this great city, and make it a must see for any visitor to the region.