In this first (official) episode of our new series “Take a Minute to Fly” (it takes three episodes to start a series), we would like to introduce you to the beautifully restored Fort Bourtange under a typical Dutch winter sky. The fortress is located in the municipality of Westerwolde, in the north of the Netherlands, east of the city of Groningen and close to the German border.
The origin of the name of Bourtange stands for the word “boer” meaning farmer, and “tange” the name of a sandy ridge leading through the marshes or swamps, as the “Bourtanger Moor” was the largest wetland of north-western Europe at the time.
Bourtange played an important role in the history of 80 years war between Spain and the Netherlands (1568-1648). The fortress of Bourtange was initially planned to be constructed during the time of William I of Orange, but after his assassination, it was finished by his cousin William Louis. It was built on the only route through the marshes that connected the city of Groningen with Lingen and Westphalia, in what is now Germany. With the creation of Bourtange, the Dutch blocked the supply route of the Spaniards and isolated the city of Groningen, which at the time was under their control.
Take a Minute to Fly and take in the intriguing pattern of Fort Bourtange
Due to its strategic location and the surrounding swamp, no major battles were ever held around Bourtange. After the Netherlands and Spain signed the end of 80 years war in the Treaty of Münster, Bourtange lost its importance and popularity. However, when some decades later the Prince-Bishop of Münster, an ally of France in the Franco-Dutch War, laid claim to and invaded north-eastern parts of the newly formed “Republic of 7 United Netherlands”, Bourtange was reinforced again as a fortress. After a failed attempt to conquer the municipality of Westerwolde in 1665, which saw a relatively small garrison at Bourtange push the invading armies back into the swamps, the Prince-Bishop changed his tactics and started invading the provinces south of Groningen.
Holding up the fort
When the Prussian armies returned to Bourtange on the 11th of July 1672, they demanded the surrender of the fortress. The captain in charge of the Bourtange Fortress, Bernard Johan Prott, refused. Even after the Prussian General Heinrich Martel offered Prott and his fellow officers, 200.000 guilders (worth over 2,5 million Euros today), as well as titles in Westphalia, if they would abandon the fort. To which Prott famously replied, that they would have 200,000 bullets for any army that wanted to take the fort. After some unsuccessful attempts to take the fortress, the Prince-Bishop was forced to retreat, and find another way into Groningen.
Reconstruction of Fort Bourtange
As the power of guns increased and the swap was drained, the significance of the fortress of Bourtange decreased. Over the years the fortress had been extended, but finally, in 1851, the fortress was dissolved. After that farmers, workers and traders came to the fortress. But this was only for a short while and people eventually left the bastion. Around a century later people began to make plans to reconstruct the fortified village. So that’s what happened. Between 1972 and 1992 Bourtange was reconstructed into the fortified village of the year 1742. That was when the fortress of Bourtange was at its biggest and had its most power. People not only reconstructed the unique historical defence work but also recreated a swamp. This beautiful historic location is now open to the public.