Dokkum is a very old town. After Stavoren, Dokkum is the oldest of the eleven towns of Friesland. With over 1250 years of history there is much to learn about Dokkum.
You will soon discover Dokkum's particular charm and character. Walking through the old town centre, enclosed by the bulwarks, you will notice that hardly anything has changed for centuries.
In the 19th century many old and distinctive buildings were demolished in the Netherlands. Fortunately in 1974 Dokkum became one of the first conservation areas in the Netherlands. Within its town walls Dokkum has retained much of its character. Magnificent monuments, historical buildings and their history and legends give a good impression of the past.
Seaport town Dokkum
During the period between 1000 and 1600 Dokkum experienced a time of development. Dokkum was granted town rights and became an important seaport. Overseas trade became gradually more important and coin finds indicate that an active maritime trade in the North Sea and Baltic Sea regions was already in existence since the beginning of the 11th century. Trade and industry brought a period of flourishing prosperity to Dokkum. Dokkum owes its existence partly to its strategic location. Till about 1729 the Dokkumer Diep formed a direct connection from Dokkum to the Wadden Sea. Tidal movement penetrated as far as the centre of the town. In 1598 the Friesian-Groningen Admiralty (the coastal defence of Groningen and Friesland at that time) even set up its sea office in the seaport of Dokkum. However, at that time Dokkum already had to cope with its link to the sea becoming silted up. In 1645 most sea-going ships had trouble getting to Dokkum and the Admiralty was moved to the harbour of Harlingen. The open connection with the Lauwerszee was cut off by the construction of the "Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen" (locks) in 1729. For Dokkum this meant the end of sea trade and the prosperity it brought. The old lock to the former Lauwerszee near the "Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen" is still fully intact, but is no longer used for locking ships through. Nowadays it performs a drainage function.
The most striking green spaces in Dokkum are the bulwarks surrounding the town centre. The old town centre of Dokkum, in the form of a hexagon, is enclosed by the walls of the bulwarks.
There are not many towns in the Netherlands, where the earth defensive walls have been so well preserved as in Dokkum. Around 1582 these bulwarks were erected to protect the town and its inhabitants against enemies. Fortunately Dokkum
has never had need for its bulwarks.
The bulwarks were thoroughly restored during the nineteen-seventies. A walk over the bulwarks will give you a splendid view of the town.
On the Zuiderbolwerk (south bulwark) you will find the old town cemetery. The Dokkum poet Camphuys is buried here. Near the Woudpoortbrug are a medieval cannon and the "Lie Bench" of Dokkum. On this "Lie Bench" the people of Dokkum tell each other tall stories. The Friesian text on the bench, 'Look who's talking', says it all.
The windmill "De Hoop", which dates from 1848, is situated on the left at the end of the Zuiderbolwerk. The Zuiderbolwerk joins the Baantjesbolwerk, where you find the Zeldenrust windmill from 1862. These two 19th century flour mills are still in operation. Both mills are open to the public.
Battle against the sea
The many terps, churches, town and village conservation areas give the Dokkum region a rich cultural-historical character. Dokkum is built on a terp (a mound to protect it from flooding) which is still clearly visible when you look at the streets which run upwards towards the middle of the town centre. Dokkum is not the only place that is built on a terp. Most villages in the area are terp villages. These terps came into being, when the inhabitants of the Friesian coast built mounds to protect their family, home and cattle against the rising seawater. The terps were essential in those days when the sea still had free reign in the coastal area. Around 1000 AD the inhabitants of the coastal area started building dikes. They hoped to settle their struggle against the sea once and for all. But the battle against the sea is never truly over. The sea remains unreliable and unpredictable. Dikes are therefore still being built today. In 1969 the final work on the diking in process was completed by the closing off of the Lauwerszee. The Lauwerszee is now a lake: the Lauwersmeer, a favourite attraction for water sport enthusiasts and nature lovers.
The town hall
The town hall is situated in the heart of Dokkum on the former sea lock. The old part of the present council office was used as a town hall from around 1610 and reflects several 17th, 18th and 19th century architectural styles. The beautiful historic interior of the town hall can be admired during a visit to the old part of the building. The Mayor's Room, the Executive Room, the Green Room and the room of the City Fathers are definitely worth a visit. The bell tower of the town hall was built in 1717, renovated in 1834, and provided with a new carillon in 1955. During the week this carillon plays a merry little tune every half hour. On Friday evenings from 19.00 the carillon is played by the town carilloneur.
On the west side of the Markt is the former orphanage, built in a neo-classical style. The building was built in 1614 and provided with a fine stone tablet in 1758, with the text: 'Give generously and await a heavenly reward'. The town arms of Dokkum, a half moon and three stars, are flanked by an orphan girl and an orphan boy, dressed in the colours red and blue/black. The building served as an orphanage until after World War II. It is now a restaurant/bar.
The Waag (Weighhouse)
Exactly 1000 years after the murder of Boniface, the current Weighhouse arose in the Grote Breedstraat. The Waag became the centre of a lively trade in Dokkum. The inscription on the Waag indicates the two functions that the building served. Apart from being a weighhouse for goods it provided accommodation for the Civic Guard. The officers' mess was on the top floor. With the disappearance of the numerous specialized markets the prominent building lost its function. The building is now in use as a small, intimate medieval restaurant. The granite spinning top in front of the Waag symbolizes the once bustling activity that came to a standstill. It is lying tilted.
Duke Albrecht of Saxony, the future sovereign of Frisia, commissioned the building of blockhouses near the town centres. Blockhouses were small forts in the form of a single building which served as defensive strong points in the town. In 1516 such a blockhouse was built in Dokkum on the Vleesmarkt, opposite the town hall. At the site of this blockhouse, three houses with beautiful step gables were built in 1622.
The Golden Hand
On the Vleesmarkt is one of the many monumental houses of Dokkum. The fine neck-gable bears the inscription ANNO 1743. A gilded raised hand, which is visible on the front wall, gave the house its name of 'The golden hand'. In the 18th century this building was a brewery.
Apart from the terps and dikes, the churches in the region of Dokkum also have a great cultural-historical value. These churches are often built on terps in villages. The churches and church towers are remarkable treasures from the past. Many of these beautiful little churches are still in use for various functions.