Did you know that during the Eighty Years War, Alkmaar was the first Dutch town to withstand a Spanish siege? No? Well then, read on and discover this great story showing the strength and courage of the citizens of Alkmaar.
The second half of the 1500s saw a lot of change for the Netherlands. The area was under Spanish rule and an uprising of Protestantism saw the deployment of thousands of Spanish troops to the area in order to regain control. When the Spanish finally arrived in Alkmaar in the summer of 1573, they were sent away and the rebels were let in instead.
Alkmaar had to prepare for the inevitable return of the Spanish. Food was stockpiled, a perimeter canal was dug and a reinforced wall built. All the adults in town helped and farmers from all over were forcibly recruited. By the time the Spanish arrived several weeks later, the fortifications were nearly complete. However, the Spanish soon surrounded the city. No one could get in or out and it was looking desperate for the trapped Alkmaarders.
One night in early September 1573, a carpenter by the name of Maerten Pietersz van der Meij snuck past the Spanish troops with notes hidden in his leaping pole. He had to reach the Governor of the Northern Quarter, Diederik van Sonoy, and convince him to the open the flood gates at Hoorn. Once the gates were opened, the area where the Spanish were camped would be flooded with water. However, this took not only a lot of time, but a lot of convincing as the salty water would devastate the farmer’s crops for years.
On the afternoon of the 18th September, the Spanish launched an attack where the city walls had not yet been fortified. The fighting was fierce. The citizens of Alkmaar knew what there was to lose – the Spanish vowed to kill every living creature should the city be taken by force. Men, women and children fought. Anything that could be used as ammunition was thrown at the Spanish…including chamber pot contents, boiling tar, rocks and burning sticks.
Despite being outnumbered, Alkmaar managed to fend off the Spanish. There were fatalities of both citizens and rebels, but the Spanish were much worse off. On the 23rd September the flood gates at Hoorn were opened, flooding the area. The Spanish had had enough and they slowly retreated. By the 8th October 1573 all the Spanish troops had disappeared. Victory!
Every year there are massive celebrations in Alkmaar to mark the defeat of the Spanish. On the evening of Friday, 6th October 2017 children in Groups 3 and 4 (Grades 1 and 2) will walk through the streets of Alkmaar with handmade lanterns. It is a lot of fun and the whole of the centre of Alkmaar is one big party. There will also be a daytime parade with floats on the 7th October starting at 14:30 as well as a host of other activities. For more information please visit the Alkmaar Onzet page (in Dutch).
And one last golden nugget of information: Alkmaarders are knows as Kaaskops or Cheese Heads. But do you know why? During the siege the Alkmaarders did not have armour, so to protect themselves they wore the wooden cheese moulds on their heads. Cheese Heads!
Alkmaar Tours offers top rated Private and Small Group Tours of Alkmaar’s medieval centre and the famous Alkmaar Cheese Market! For more information on the different tours, please visit the Alkmaar Tours Website.