Until 1100, Bolsward had an open link with the Middelzee, which eventually silted up and was then surrounded by dykes built by monks. A link with the Zuiderzee (today the IJsselmeer) also existed until 1200. The town developed into an important transshipment and trading harbour and flourished primarily during the 15th century. A document dating from 1412 is thought to show that Bolsward was a member of the Hanseatic League, just like Stavoren on the Zuiderzee.
Once a seaside town
In 1455 the settlement, which was located on a kerkterp [church knoll] and a handelsterp [trading knoll], was granted town privileges and that led to the construction of the town’s defensive moats, fortifications and gates. Only the moats and a single bulwark, the Hoog Bolwerk, have stood the test of time.
The town hall was built between 1614 and 1617 by Bolsward craftsmen to show the outside world that they had more than a good understanding of their profession. The walkways were installed in around 1765. The town hall, in which the antiquities room with its unique collection of silverware is accommodated, is very attractively panelled, and this is particularly so in the council chamber.
There were also plenty of clergy in Bolsward, as demonstrated by the many churches and monasteries. The Broerekerk, which has been a restored ruin with a glass roof since a fire in 1980, originally dates from around 1300 and was part of a Franciscan monastery. The large Martinikerk, a pseudo-basilica, was built in the period between 1446 and 1466 next to the tower which itself dates from 1350 and was once a lighthouse.
Another unique building is the medieval town farm, a so-called stins, which is now the Heeremastate boarding house on the Heeremastraat. The Heeremas were members of the Frisian rural nobility.
The Marne estuary gradually silted up after 1400 and Makkum became Bolsward’s outer harbour. As the centre of a web of canals and streams, Bolsward, which had a strong focus on Amsterdam, has developed during the last 200 years into a dairy centre (Hochwald) and a centre for the production of traditional pleasures in life such as Berenburg (Sonnema, Fryske Bearenburch-Oenema), beer (Us Heit), whisky (Frysk Hynder) and coffee (De Drie Mollen).
These days Bolsward is a charming and bustling rural town with lots of historic buildings, landing stages for pleasure boats, enticing shops and canal side cafes. The main attractions are the Sonnema distillery, specialist beer brewery Us Heit and whisky distiller Frysk Hynder.