Every visitor to the city will be impressed by the Martini tower: the most prominent point of the city and it has been just that for more than 500 years. You can climb this tower until the second gallery, but if you do not feel like climbing the 251 steps, you can call the tower: “eye in ear”! Recently, the tower has undergone a facelift, and has been restored in its original glory.
Behind d ‘Olle Grieze, as the Groningen inhabitants affectionately call the grey tower, is the Martini church. This church has a series of vault and choir paintings unique in the Netherlands. The second largest church in Groningen is the der Aa church, also from the 15th century, with a tower from a later period.
In 1994, the Martini tower received a formidable competitor: the Groningen Museum.
In its entirety, the new Groningen Museum is not just a showcase for art, it is actually a work of art in itself, a principle which is not new in current (museum) architecture. The museum itself is really the most valuable part of the Groningen Museum’s art collection. A work of art in the middle of the city, crossed by public grounds, where passers-by are immediately confronted with all kinds of works of art. What could be more inviting?
The Ploeg pavilion presents objects from Groningen’s cultural history and there are alternating exhibitions of the Groningen Artists’ Collective De Ploeg.
Groningen has more than thirty almshouses or hospitals which were originally meant for the poor, the strangers, and the sick.
The Sint Geertuids or Pepergasthuis in the Peperstraat, for instance, was inhabited mainly by pilgrims, an early kind of tourists who came to the Martini church to worship the greatest relic of the North: an arm of John the Baptist.
These almshouses are now mainly inhabited by singles and students, and are partly open to the public. However, just like you, people are fond of their privacy and do not like to be considered as museum pieces in showcases. We also ask for your special interest for the gardens in the hospitals which often contain a wealth of special plant types.
Martini churchyard, Provinciehuis (Provincial House), Prinsenhof, Prinsenhof garden
Behind the Martini tower is the Martini churchyard where the city’s rulers used to live. The (old) Provinciehuis, located in the former St Maartensschool, can be found here. In 1602, the Statenzaal (State Chamber) was put into use. In those days, the churchyard was also used for bleaching household laundry… In 1436, preparations were made to found a friary in Groningen: later the Prinsenhof. From 1570, it was used as an episcopal palace for some years, after which, in 1594, it became the residence of the governors of Oranje Nassau. The Prinsenhof garden, consisting of a rose and herb garden, was layed out in 1625. Above the gate in the wall of the Turfsingel is a sundial. At the top, a piece of wisdom can be read…he face with the halo does not symbolise the sun, as would be expected with a sundial, but instead the Pole Star.
The central position occupied by Groningen in the early Middle Ages certainly had a stimulating influence on regional trade. Warehouses and storehouses were thus required. More than 200 of them have survived in and around the city centre. For the most part, they date from the last two centuries, but some are considerably older. A striking example is the Libau storehouse at the Hoge der A 5, dating from the 14th/15th century.
The central station in Groningen is a magnificent gateway to the city, so be sure to have a look in the station hall. In many places, light penetrates the building via leaded windows. The stained glass filters the light and the magnificent way it spreads is fascinating. Geometric patterns in five colours decorate the various windows. In the centre of the hall is the nearly six-metre high wrought iron lamp; reconstructed from old photographs. Perhaps the most special part of the building are the papier-mâché ceilings.
The Peerd van Ome Loeks (Uncle Loeks’ Horse) has been in front of the central station for years. It is the subject of a Groningen folk song which begins with the following intriguing lines:
“Peerd van Ome Loeks is dood, Loeks is dood, Loeks is dood, Peerd van Ome Loeks is dood, hailemaal dood” (Uncle Loeks’ horse is dead, horse is dead, horse is dead, Uncle Loeks‘ horse is dead, dead as a doornail).
People do not entirely agree about who this uncle Loeks really was…there are at least three different versions of the story.
Goudkantoor (Gold office)
In the city centre, you find the restored Goudkantoor, built in 1635 in Renaissance style, in contrast with the modern Waagstraat complex, of which it became a part in 1996. The name “Goudkantoor” refers to this building’s former function as a tax office. The Latin saying also refers to this:
“Date Caesari quae sunt Caesaris” or: “Give to the emperor what is the emperors”.
This park has a military history: it was included in the fortress plan. With the coming into effect of the Vestingwet (fortress law) the levelling of the walls was started. But the park, layed out in the 19th century, still shows traces of the fortifications. The forms of the ponds and the so-called sortie, a passage through the main wall, for instance, are reminiscent of this history. The park was layed out in the so-called English landscape style. This style came into being as the result of the need of some sort of idealised image of creating a landscape. It was a reaction to the formal style of the Renaissance.
There’s no place like Groningen: “Van Lauwerszee tot Dollard tou, van Drenthe tot aan’t wad……” (From lauwerszee to the Dollard, from Drenthe to the coast).
If you are planning on discovering the province, whether by car, bike, foot or public transport, you cannot fail to notice the beautiful farms, estate houses and churches. Did you know that the year 2003 was declared the Year of the Farm? This means that, throughout the Netherlands, activities with “the farm” as the central theme have been organised, naturally also in the province of Groningen. Groningen is the only one of the twelve provinces to have launched the concept of the festival farm.
Spend the night in one of the monumental buildings such as the estate houses, farms, inns, and parsonages; ask for the brochure “Cultuurtoeristische Arrangementen in het Gastvrije Groningen” (Cultural historical packages in the hospitable north) at the tourist information office for the various opportunities.
South-west of the city, in Leek, is the Nationaal Rijtuigmuseum Nienoord (Nienoord national carriage museum), located in the Nienoord estate house, one of the five estate houses in the province of Groningen still open to the public.
In the small village of Roderwolde, the Woldzigt oil and flour mill is open to the public during fixed hours. In Aduard, north-west of Groningen, is the museum St Bernardushof; here the history of the life and work of the Cistercian monks who lived in the St Bernardus abbey can be seen. Now, only the ward from the 13th century remains.
At the eastern edge of the city is the Grunopark sports and recreation complex; here you can try the cable waterski lift, among other things. You can also camp here.
The Hortus Haren, with its varied exhibitions, is located to the south-east of the city. In Eelde, just a bit to the south of the city, is De Buitenplaats, the Museum for decorative art. The collection, which emphasises on decorative art in the Netherlands from 1945, is certainly worth a visit, as is the museum pavilion itself, an example of organic architecture. Be sure not to miss the museum garden with a snake wall for growing exotic fruit. Next to the museum is the Nijsinghhuis, a beautiful restored seventeenth-century building. And also in Eelde is the Gebroeders Wietzes Klompenmuseum (clog museum). As well as the clogs themselves, you can see the manufacturing process and the tools that were, and still are, used in the completely designed workshop.