The old Hanseatic city of Zwolle is located near two rivers, in a swampy area. This is a green city, in the past – agrarian, surrounded by forests and meadows. At the same time, Zwolle was once a major trading center and can still be considered a rather lively place, albeit without a capital gloss. The old center of the medieval city is well preserved, the city museum has its own Van Gogh, and the organ of the main city church is known even outside the country.
The Pepper Tower is one of the tallest and most famous towers in the Netherlands. The tower got its funny name, probably because of the green “lid” at the very top, clearly visible from different parts of the city.
How to get to Zwolle
By train from Amsterdam with a transfer in about 1.5 hours. Direct trains to Zwolle run from Groningen (1 hour), Arnhem (1 hour), Utrecht (55 minutes).
A bit of history
According to CachedHealth, archaeological excavations have confirmed that these places have been inhabited since at least the Bronze Age. Zwolle officially became a city in the 13th century, and joined the Hansa in the 15th. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was already the largest trading center (thanks to the rivers); there was a large fish market, and the second largest livestock fair after Rotterdam was held. During World War II, the city was occupied by the Germans and liberated by a single soldier, Canadian Leo Major. He was given the title of honorary resident of the city, and one of the streets was named after him.
The French Canadian Major was by no means a general’s rank: an ordinary private for 24 years. In addition, blind in one eye after the landing in Normandy. When his unit approached Zwolle in April 1945, Leo volunteered to estimate the approximate number of Germans settled in the city and, if possible, contact the Resistance fighters. Major went to Zwolle at night, together with a friend (he was killed on the way), and raised such a panic with machine gun fire and grenades that the Germans were convinced that they were being attacked by a large military unit, and left the city.
Entertainment and attractions Zwolle
Zwolle as a whole does not look like the big cities of the western part of the country, but looks more like a large village: the Dutch from the west look down on the citizens of Zwolle as farmers. In addition, the urban planning of the 80s. of the last century led to the fact that in the very center, near the Old Town, several rather strange and even scary-looking buildings grew up. But in the western part of the city, several very attractive mansions in the Art Nouveau style have been preserved. On the city canal, where today very vintage-looking barges are moored, there are several excellent cafes and restaurants, and in terms of the number of events, especially music, Zwolle is quite capable of competing with larger cities.
The inhabitants of Zwolle are traditionally derisively called “blauffingers” – that is, “blue-fingered”. The history of the origin of this nickname is funny and instructive: it is connected with 1682 and the counting of a huge number of copper coins, which actually colored the fingers of the greedy people – those who counted these coins.
The main city church of St. Michael was built in the 15th century on the main city square and is very famous. First, gothic architecture (the main entrance is especially remarkable) and well-preserved monuments. And secondly, the amazing world-famous organ by Schnitger (1721). The organ has four keyboards and four thousand pipes. In July and August, magnificent organ concerts are held in the church. Right next to the church, a completely new sculpture depicting the Archangel Michael has been installed. The statue was made of frosted green glass in 2010 by Herman Lamers and depicts the saint as an ordinary modern person – just with wings.
Near the church is the City Hall, which was originally built in the middle of the 15th century. However, more modern extensions give it a somewhat strange look today. On the square in front of the Town Hall there is a more classical urban sculpture. This is a bronze Adam, a copy of Rodin’s masterpiece. And to the north of the Church of St. Michael stands a picturesque Renaissance building of the former guardhouse built in the early 17th century.
3 things to do in Zwolle:
- Take a look at the restaurant De Librije (“Library”) – one of two in the country with three Michelin stars. The restaurant occupies the premises of the former monastery library.
- To see a father and son with a bird is a nice bronze sculpture from 1960 on Zeven Alleetes.
- Find the large gilded dove that has been perched on the roof of the museum since 1939.
The Pepper Tower is one of the tallest and most famous towers in the Netherlands. It was built in the middle of the 15th century as the bell tower of the Church of the Ascension of Our Lady and reaches 75 m in height. The tower got its funny name, probably, because of the green “lid” at the very top, clearly visible from different parts of the city. Another curious medieval tower is Mustard, built in 1571. Also remarkable and beautiful are the Saxon gates made of red stone, which more resemble a narrow tall castle with sharp turrets; through them you can go to the Sassenstraat. The gates were built in the 15th century as part of the city’s fortifications, which have hardly survived to this day. There are even windmills in Zwolle that date back to the 18th century: today a small outdoor museum has been organized around them.
Quite attractive is the Zwolle synagogue, which is considered one of the most beautiful in Holland. This Neo-Renaissance red stone building was erected at the very end of the 19th century. A more unusual urban site is the old Broerenker Church, which was built in the middle of the 15th century. It is interesting because in 2013 a large modern Waanders bookstore was built inside. The interior of the restored church retains a beautiful organ, high vaulted Gothic ceilings and stained-glass windows. They are adjacent to multi-tiered bookcases, reading rooms and a small cafe.
In 2014, Zwolle was named the best city in the Netherlands for cyclists.
Of the modern sights of the city, one cannot fail to mention the railway bridge over the IJssel of the middle of the last century, a monumental iron structure. Another recognizable bridge features a characteristic detail: the piers, whose design resembles the appearance of wrenches.
In the city museum of Zwolle, you can see a good collection of paintings, the pearl of which is considered to be the “Mill of Le Bluet-fin” by Van Gogh himself. The authorship of the work was disputed for a long time, but today there is no doubt. In addition, several works by other world-famous masters, such as Mondrian, are stored here, and temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists are regularly held here. The city theater De Spiegel is also known, which occupies a modern glass-and-concrete building. It has excellent acoustics.
The Ecodrome theme park will primarily attract children: there are many educational and entertaining expositions with dinosaurs (not real ones), piranhas (real ones), a terrarium, models of forests and mountains, etc.
In winter, Zwolle hosts an annual ice sculpture festival. It starts in early December and lasts almost two months. In order for the sculptures to last so long, special pavilions are built around them. Authors gather here from all over Europe, even from Canada. The beginning of the festival is marked by the joint construction of a hotel made of ice, which, both externally and internally, completely copies a real hotel – with furniture, interior decorations, and so on.
In November, the city hosts a week-long International Guitar Festival. And the Midsummer Festival begins at the end of June and includes about 100 performances at 15 different venues – these are jazz, pop and folk concerts, as well as blues evenings, performances of brass and classical chamber orchestras and theater productions. In July, the city hosts the annual blue-toed festival, with a traditional handicraft market, folk music and dance. The first weekend of September is the traditional time for the Dutch Jazz Festival.