THE HISTORY OF BREDA
The attractive backdrop of the historic city center gives extra cachet to enjoying culture, shopping and relaxing in Breda.
Anyone strolling through the medieval shopping streets in the old center is surrounded by the legacy of the greatest developments and richest cultural history of the city: the 15th and 16th centuries. Breda was a rich and powerful city at that time, where art and culture were in full bloom. The church (de Grote Kerk) is visible from almost any part of the city, and the collection of Breda silver in Breda’s Museum still reflects this wealth.
The recorded history of Breda starts in the 11th century when Breda was a direct fief of the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1252, the city obtained a municipal charter and with it, the right to build fortifications.
The acquisition of Breda by the House of Orange-Nassau in 1403 put the city on a path of prosperity as a residence city (residentiestad). The presence of the influential Orange-Nassau family made it an attractive place for wealthy nobles who built palatial residences in the old quarters of the city. Some of these gentry homes still exist today, and a good clue to finding them is to look for the word “Hofhuis” (house with a courtyard), a nod to their characteristic U-shaped inner courtyards. Other distinguishable elements are masonry outer walls, late Gothic stepped towers and stone crossed window frames.
Even though Breda was the residence of the House of Nassau, it was ruled from the Spanish Royal palace of Escorial, near Madrid. Count Henry III of Nassau was the chamberlain of the Spanish ruler Emperor Charles V. During the 80-year war, Breda Castle was a major point of conflict between Spain and the Netherlands. In 1590, the son of William of Orange, prince Maurits, took the castle with the aid of a ruse. The Spanish commander Spinola besieged the fortress in 1624-25 and forced Breda to capitulate. The famous painting Las Lanzas (The Capitulation of Breda) by Velazquez depicts the Spanish commander receiving the keys to the city from Justinus van Nassau. In 1637 Breda was captured definitively from the Spanish by Frederik Hendrik, and became part of the Dutch Republic.
In the 15th century, due to the growing economic and strategic importance of the city, the Grote Kerk (Onze Lieve Vrouwe Kerk – Church of Our Lady) was built in Brabantine Gothic style. Its 97-meter-tall tower (318 feet) is visible from most streets in the city center.
Grote Kerk is more than a church. It is a cultural and community space that often hosts exhibitions, concerts and events. You can visit the church (and its current exhibitions) for free, but a small donation is always appreciated.
If you enter the city center of Breda through the Valkenberg park, you’ll find yourself in front of the Castle of Breda, standing proof of the historical link between the city and the House of Orange-Nassau. In 1198 a fortress stood on the site of the current castle. The building has been integrated into the defense structures of Breda, but over time it has been rebuilt and enlarged several times. The Royal Military Academy (KMA) has been using the castle since 1828. The Valkenburg city park, adjacent to Breda castle, used to serve as the castle gardens for the lords of Breda until 1812. The original forest disappeared in the 17th century and was replaced by a French-style garden.