People from Zwolle have blue fingers. That’s not because they are bad do-it-yourselfers and constantly hit their fingers when doing jobs. No, it is a nickname that arose around 1500 due to the rivalry between the flourishing and bustling Hanseatic city of Zwolle and nearby Kampen. And actually it was more of a swear name, but the people of Zwolle embraced the buzzard name ‘blue fingers’.
Anyone visiting the Hanseatic city of Zwolle will discover that the inhabitants do not have blue fingers. But what you do see is that today it is a pleasant city with a beautiful historic centre from the 15th century. It was not for nothing that this century before Zwolle was called the Golden Age. Just because of the history of the city it is a nice destination to stay there for 1 or 2 days.
But what about that story about the blue fingers? And what exactly is a Hanseatic city and why does the city have a star status? And which 6 sights shouldn’t be missed if you take a city trip to this nice place in Overijssel? Here you can read all about this historical destination: Hanseatic city Zwolle.
What would you like to know about Zwolle in the Netherlands?
History Zwolle – Blooming period, star status and Blue Fingers?
The name Zwolle is mentioned for the first time in a charter in 1040. This means that in 2040 the city may officially celebrate its 1,000th anniversary. However, it took until 1230 before the city was actually granted city rights. These were granted by the bishop of Utrecht, Wilbrand van Oldenburg (1175-1233) because of the help the city gave the bishop during the Battle of Ane (1227). Of course, at that time Zwolle was a rather small hamlet that only really flourished in the 15th century.
Economic and cultural prosperity in the Hanseatic city of Zwolle
For the 15th century was the Golden Age for Zwolle. A number of buildings from the present inner city come from this century and give the city a historical character. The economy grew with the arrival of merchants and guilds in the city. And in 1448, the German bishop Rudolf van Diepholt (1390-1455) granted Zwolle city rights by including it among the cities of the German Empire. It thus became a real trading town and joined the Hanseatic League. This was an alliance of about 200 cities that traded with each other. As a result of this partnership, Zwolle became one of the most cultural and economic cities in the region. This changed at the end of the 16th century when Amsterdam and the Zeeland region started to form the economic heart of the city.
A Star is born and her name is Zwolle
Finally, it is interesting to know that the centre of Zwolle consists of a star. This was created during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) when the stadholder and army commander of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, Maurice of Orange, had the city fortified with a large wall. And you can still discover the contours of this star yourself from one of the 6 historic sights of this Hanseatic city.
But what is the story of those Blue Fingers?
Around 1500 there was a lot of rivalry between Zwolle and the nearby city of Kampen. Because Kampen needed a new glockenspiel, Zwolle decided to sell their bells to the enemy for far too much money. The Kampen people were quite willing to pay this amount, only how they wanted to decide for themselves. In order to give the people of Zwolle a polish, it was decided to deliver large bags of nickels. The people of Zwolle were counting for days, they literally ‘counted their fingers blue’.
Sights – 6 historical sites in Zwolle
In the meantime, you have gained an impression of the history of Zwolle. Below you will find 6 sights that you really should not miss during a visit to this old Hanseatic city. And don’t forget to take a look around you at the many monumental buildings in the old city centre. And in addition to the 6 historical sites you will find more tips and information to make your city trip to Zwolle complete.
1. The most beautiful gate in the Netherlands: De Sassenpoort
The most beautiful gate in the Netherlands? Maybe! It’s certainly an impressive appearance. When you arrive at the canal from the station, you will see the Sassenpoort on your right hand side.
At the beginning of the 15th century this gate was built as part of the city’s fortifications. It served as an internal gate made of trachyte, tuff and sandstone. The beautiful exterior of the building shows how prosperous the Hanseatic city of Zwolle was in the 15th century.
After it lost its function as a defence gate in the 17th century, it was used as a prison. From 1739 the tower was used to house less fortunate families.
At the end of the 19th century, the Dutch State took control of the monument. Time for a restoration! The wooden bell tower was replaced by the current stone tower. For a century the Sassenpoort was in use by the Provincial State Archives in Overijssel and is now used as an exhibition space.
Would you like to visit the Sassenpoort? This is only possible on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. till 5 p.m. (in winter until 4 p.m.). Access to the gate and the exhibition costs 3 euros.
2. The church without a tower: St. Michael’s Church
There used to be a Romanesque church on the site of the St Michael’s Church. But in the 15th century a new church was built in honour of the dragon’s fighter, the archangel Michael. On top of the roof is a statue of him, but don’t forget the remarkable green version on the market square!
Once upon a time St. Michael’s Church had the highest church tower in the Netherlands, higher than the Dom Tower in Utrecht. But in 1682, the 120-metre-high tower collapsed due to a lightning strike and was never rebuilt.
The interior of the church was a bit disappointing, but that was mainly because they were busy with renovating it (May 2019). Nevertheless, this church has two objects that are normally worth a visit: an organ from 1721 and a pulpit from the beginning of the 17th century.
And after visiting this church it is time for an alcoholic drink at one of the many cafes and restaurants on the market square!
3. Modern art in Museum de Fundatie
Would you like to visit a museum? Well, Museum de Fundatie is the right place for you. This remarkable building was built between 1838 and 1841 in neoclassical style. But the most characteristic part of the building is the ‘cloud’ on the roof. This ‘cloud’ consists of 55,000 white-blue tiles and gives the museum a spectacular appearance.
The museum houses a collection of fine art from the Middle Ages to the present day. But above all, modern and contemporary art predominates. But to be honest, it is a beautiful museum with paintings of Corneile, Appel, Toorop and many other painters from the 20th century.
The museum is open from Tuesday till Sunday from 11am till 5pm. Entrance to the museum costs €14 per person.
Fact: Zwolle is the city of the painter Herman Brood (1946-2001). Opposite Museum de Fundatie is the Herman Brood Experience. If you are interested in a painting by Herman Brood, then this is the place to be!
4. View over the city: the Peperbus (Pepperbox)
Another church that should not be missed is the ‘Our Lady for the Assumption’. But this church is best known for its tower, called the Pepperbox. Why this name? Just take a good look at the tower! What does it look like (look closely!)? Right!
The first foundations for a church were built at the end of the 14th century. In 1450 a tower was added. After the iconoclasm of 1566 the church was used for a long time (until 1811) for non church purposes. The Protestant majority in Zwolle decided that the Catholic Pepperbox could not be used as a church.
Climbing the 236 steps of the Peperbus is a funny thing to do! From the tower you have a beautiful view of the Hanseatic city of Zwolle. The costs for this climb are € 3 euros per person. If you look closely you might recognize the star of Zwolle! Okay, it’s almost impossible to see, but the star-shaped city centre is a fact!
The church is open from 1 April to 1 November on Mondays from 13:30 to 16:30 and from Tuesday to Saturday from 11:00 to 16:30. From 1 November to 1 April it is open from Monday to Friday from 1.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. and from Saturday to 4.30 p.m.
Fact: Pope John Paul II awarded the honorary title of Basilica Minor to the Church of Our Lady.
5. The city wall and the 23 gates
If you’re going to visit an old city with defences, you want to see the old city wall too, don’t you? On the north side of the city centre there are still some parts of the city wall from the 15th century. If you walk in the street ‘Aan de Stadsmuur’, which means ‘At the city wall’ you can’t miss it!
From the fortifications, only 3 of the 23 gates have survived in addition to the abovementioned Sassenpoort and the city wall. These are the Pelserpoorttoren, the Zwanentoren and the Wijndragerstoren.
Tip: How is the weather? Sunny? Well, you can take a nice boat trip around the old town. A ticket costs €9.
6. The Broerenkerk or Waanders in the Brothers
Finally, a church! Or not? In the 15th century the Dominicans founded the Broerenklooster and the Broerenkerk. But from 1580 the monastery and the church were closed and in 1640 they were taken into use by the Protestants. They held their services here until 1983.
Since 1983, the building has been used for various exhibitions and events. But that changed in 2013. Since then it has been in use as a bookstore! The original organ from 1824 is still present and can officially still be used. Waanders in de Broeren is regarded as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the Netherlands.
Waanders in de Broeren is open every day, also on Sundays. On Sunday and Monday the church/shop is open from 12 o’clock, the rest of the week from 9.30 o’clock.
Accommodation – Where to stay in Zwolle?
Would you like to spend a historic night in Zwolle? One possibility is Bed & Breakfast de Pelsertoren. Here you will spend the night in a national monument, as the Pelsertoren was part of the city’s defence works in 1500. Book in time, because they only have a number of rooms available.
Food & Drinks: Zwolle is known for the best restaurant in the Netherlands, the Librije. But if you are hungry for tasty sweets, go to the Zwols Balletjeshuis. In addition to typical Zwolle products, you can also find information about the city here.
Transport – How to get there?
Zwolle is easiest to reach by train. Zwolle’s train station is within walking distance and south of the old town. From Amsterdam there is an intercity train to Zwolle every half hour. This takes just over an hour. For more information visit the website of the NS (Dutch Railways).
Prefer to go to Zwolle by car? On the municipality’s website you will find a complete overview of parking charges around the old town.
And what did you think of Hanseatic city Zwolle? Feel free to leave a message below!