from settlement to pioneer city

Haarlem, a former Roman settlement, was granted privileges in 1245 by Count Willem II (William II) of Holland. Haarlem subsequently grew to be one of the major cities of Holland. During the Eighty Years’ War, Haarlem fought hard against Spanish rule. Once in the hands of Willem van Oranje (William of Orange), many Flemish settled in the city, evidence of which can be seen to this day. In the Golden Age, Haarlem was popular with the rich and powerful.



Haarlem is a city of pioneers. The statue in Grote Markt represents Laurens Janszoon Coster, inventor of the printing press; Anthony Fokker flew his first plane, the Fokker Spin, around Grote or St. Bavokerk (St Bavo’s Church); and Pim Mulier is one of the founders of modern sports in the Netherlands. The first Dutch railway ran from Amsterdam to Haarlem, Haarlems Dagblad is the oldest paper in the world still in print and Jopen brews and serves two traditional Haarlem beers in a renovated church.

Kenau and Ripperda

Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer and Wigbolt Ripperda, two famous resistance heroes from the Eighty Years’ War, defended Haarlem against the Spanish army for seven months. In July 1573, the exhausted population surrendered. This story was made into a film, starring Monic Hendrickx and Barry Atsma. It picked up the audience award at Stony Brook Film Festival in New York and is available on DVD.

Monuments and almshouses

With over 4,000 national and municipal monuments, Haarlem is the second city in the Netherlands for listed monuments. Situated on Grote Markt, the oldest part of the city and once the tournament field of the Counts of Holland are the medieval town hall complex, Hoofdwacht (Main Guardhouse), Grote or St. Bavokerk (St Bavo’s Church) and Vlees- and Vishal (Meat and Fish Hall). Elsewhere in the city, you can admire De Waag (Weighhouse), Hodshon Huis (Hodshon House), Amsterdamse Poort (Amsterdam Gate) and Kathedrale Basiliek St. Bavo (St Bavo’s Cathedral). Or visit the hofjes, almshouses with courtyards, the oldest of which dates from 1395. 

The name Haarlem

Archaeological research has shown that people were living in the Spaarne area as early as 1500 BC. From a settlement on a sandy embankment, ‘Haralem’ became the seat of the Counts of Holland. Thanks to the favourable location on the river Spaarne, the city grew at an incredible rate. 

The name Haarlem may be a corruption of the word ‘Haarloheim’, meaning home (heim) on high sandy soil (haar) in the forest (lo). But it is not certain whether this is the actual origin of the name.

In 1658, Peter Stuyvesant founded ‘Nieuw Haarlem’ on the east coast of the US. In 1664, the British took over the colony and renamed the place ‘Harlem’. Today, Harlem is part of New York City and is situated in the north of Manhattan.

Haarlemse muggen (Haarlem mosquitoes)
The people of Haarlem are sometimes jokingly referred to as ‘muggen’ (mosquitoes). The origin of this is unclear but the word ‘mug’ used to be a term of abuse in the 14th and 15th century. One possible explanation is that there were many mosquitoes in Haarlem in the past. Other explanations include the ‘muggenziften’ (nit-picking) by Haarlem people and a story about a witch who threatened to turn Haarlem’s citizens into mosquitoes if they failed to listen to her.