jctv: 26.05.2009HOME




  Two houses and a beautiful viaduct

Voorburg, where I live, is a satellite town of The Hague with more than its fair share of leafy country houses as well as the honour of having served Spinoza for a few years while he stayed with a painter friend of his. Most of the country houses have been dismantled in the surge to something; that is the stuff of history. Two of the most beautiful that are left, straddle a gigantic, virile viaduct designed in the fifties, that cuts Voorburg into two unequal parts. On the one side, visible from the train to Utrecht, is Constantijn Huygens' retreat Hofwijck. It is a perfect cube set on a plinth making it roughly a 3:2 volume standing on its shorter side, covered by a pyramidal roof and crowned by a solid chimney. The Garden was schematically shaped in the figure of a human being, with the building as its head. The emblem is, I think, self explanatory. On the other side, visible through the glass sound screens along the edges of the viaduct as one drives into The Hague, there is a large building from the late eighteenth century called "In de wereldt is veel gevaer". It is my favourite. There is a story about this building. In the nineteenth century it used to be a boarding school for young gentlemen. This may of course account for the haunting inscription above the entrance which, translated literally and with all the words in the same order reads: "In the world there is much danger". The old Dutch sentence has the same awkwardness to modern Dutch ears as the literal translation in English might convey to modern English ears. Situated along the canal De Vliet, the word gevaer (of which there is a lot in the world) refers not just to danger but is also meant as a pun on the sailing of boats which in itself can be dangerous. Anyway, I cycle past both buildings often enough and enjoy them for their proprotions, their modest attempt at grandeur, their wonderful windows. Hofwijck was the country residence of Holland's foremost politician during the first half of the seventeenth century, when it was the richest country on earth. Despite that, it has something peculiarly unassuming about it. The other is not just beautiful because of its generous windows and its truist emblem, but it is also beautiful because of the rumour, which I have not had substantiated, that the Orange family housed one of their more unfortunate offspring there, a young princess who, apparently, delighted in climbing up the tree in the courtyard and then demanded that the gardener strip naked to come and rescue her.


  In de wereldt is veel gevaer, Voorburg "In the world there is much danger."
  Here is a picture of one of the buildings showing its relation to the viaduct

Hofwijck, Voorburg





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