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  • Writer's pictureErik Sadao

The importance of the Dutch Hanseatic Cities in the world's history

Updated: Jun 14

The history of the Dutch Hanseatic Cities is fascinating. A tour through the country's interior reveals how they played a crucial role in religious movements that shaped the history of Europe and the West. Deventer, Kampen and Zwolle are not only beautiful hidden gems in the Netherlands; they are silent witnesses to a time when commerce and faith were intertwined in profoundly transformative ways. As Hanseatic League powers, these cities were vibrant centers of trade and culture during the Middle Ages, and their impact goes far beyond commercial transactions.

What was the Hanseatic League?

The Hanseatic League was a powerful economic and defensive alliance of merchant guilds and market towns that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe, from the late Middle Ages into the early modern period. It originated in the 12th century as a network of trading cities and guilds primarily in the Baltic and North Sea regions. The League facilitated trade, established common tariffs, and provided mutual protection for its members against pirates and rival traders. This alliance significantly influenced economic and political developments in Europe, fostering the growth of cities and promoting cultural exchange across the continent.

the Hanseatic League in The Netherlands

Map of the 9 Dutch Hanseatic Cities that coast the Ijssel River

While Amsterdam was still a village in the Middle Ages, the Hanseatic cities in the east of the Netherlands had already developed into powerful trading centres during the 12th Century.

Today, the nine Dutch Hanseatic cities along the IJssel and Lake Veluwe have once again united forces, this time to collaboratively unveil these amazing cities and their rich history to travelers. These medieval treasures—Hasselt, Kampen, Zwolle, Hattem, Deventer, Zutphen, Elburg, Harderwijk, and Doesburg—shine as beautiful gems inherited from the illustrious days when the Hanseatic League reigned as onf the Europe's most prosperous region.

THE Pioneers of the Protestant Reformation

Intellectual and spiritual movements that preceded and influenced the Protestant Reformation happened here. Among the most notable figures to emerge from this region is Geert Groote, the founder of the movement known as "The Modern Devotion". This movement was a response to the perceived corruptions in the Catholic Church and emphasized a life of personal devotion, simplicity, and the reading of Scriptures, paving the way for reformers like Luther and Calvin.

Thomas Kempis, another spiritual giant from the region, wrote "The Imitation of Christ", a work that continues to be one of the most influential in Christian literature. His focus on the inner life, humility, and the imitation of Christ's life offered a deep and practical vision of spirituality that resonated for centuries and crossed borders, influencing reformers and mystics. The brotherhood created by Thomas Kempis was responsible for building many schools, significantly contributing to the high level of education for which the Netherlands is known today.

Entrance of charming Zupthen

The scenery of these Hanseatic cities is equally captivating. With ancient fortresses and historic centers protected by star-shaped canals, the cities offer a glimpse into the past with their medieval buildings, many of which are older than those we see in Amsterdam. Walking through these streets is like stepping back in time, where every corner tells a story of faith, commerce, and innovation.

In the 14th century, the efficiency of correspondence between these cities, including other Hanseatic German cities like Hamburg and Lübeck, was remarkable, with letters being answered within a week, an impressive feat for the time. Furthermore, Gutenberg's invention of the printing press quickly made these cities centers of printing, facilitating the distribution of books and ideas and profoundly influencing the course of the Old World.

More hidden gems in the region

Het Loo Palace

Additionally, Appeldoorn deserves special mention. This royal city is famous for the Het Loo Palace, the magnificent castle used by Queen Wilhelmina. This Dutch royal palace, with its splendid gardens and richly decorated interiors, is a testament to the grandeur of the House of Orange-Nassau and offers a unique perspective on monarchical life in the Netherlands. Queen Wilhelmina spent her final days at Het Loo Palace after returning from exile in England, where she was considered by Winston Churchill as the "strongest man of the Second World War." A visit to the palace is an immersion in royal history and a perfect complement to our cultural itinerary.

Giethoorn, although not a Hanseatic city, adds a special charm to the itinerary. Known as the "Venice of the North", this picturesque village without streets, where boats glide along tranquil canals, perfectly complements the experience, offering a delightful contrast to the rich history of the Hanseatic cities.

And, of course, we cannot forget the Kröller-Müller Museum, with its magnificent sculpture garden - the largest in Europe! - and the second largest - and most beautiful! - Van Gogh collection in the world. This museum is a testament to the continuity of the region's rich cultural heritage, extending from the Middle Ages to modern times.


Exploring the Hanseatic Cities with Sapiens Travel is undoubtedly one of the best ways to experience the true essence of the Netherlands, surprising even the most experienced travelers and those who already know Amsterdam. We hope this little dive into history inspires you to discover more about these fascinating cities and their importance to our cultural and spiritual heritage.


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