The town of Thorn, in Dutch southern province Limburg, is pretty famous. Well, in The Netherland it is. As the historical centre of Thorn consists of whitewashed houses and buildings only, which is quite unique in The Netherlands. So even though it is small, the town attracts thousands of visitors every year. And I figured out for myself why this is the case.
If I tell you Thorn was once a tiny kingdom, you wouldn’t believe me. To be fair, I wouldn’t have believed it. I mean, the town only counts 2300 inhabitants. So, what’s the deal with Thorn? During a short trip to the Dutch province Limburg, my husband and I spotted the towns name on an exit and decided to take a little detour and figure out what the deal is with this famous whitewashed village.
Thorn: from rich abbey to tiny kingdom
The town of Thorn was founded in the 9th century when Count Ansfried and his wife decided to build an abbey in this spot, where only girls and women from royal descent were allowed to live. These women lived mostly in houses around the abbey, that you can still visit today. After three centuries the town was granted city rights and because of all its royal inhabitants, it was regarded a small kingdom.
The history of the white houses
The kingdom fell during the French invasion at the end of the 18th century. Most of the royal ladies living around the abbey fled their houses, and poor people who lived in the surrounding areas moved in as they hoped to be protected by the city walls. The French rulers based their taxes on how large the windows of the house were (yeah, I know right!). Lots of people therefor decided to minimize the existing windows with new bricks and masonry. But because the new bricks looked so different from the original stones, inhabitants decided to paint their houses white to hide the difference in brickwork. Nowadays, the entire historical centre of Thorn is a protected monument.
Thorn: along the liberation route
And this is pretty much how the town has stayed since then. Because most roads are paved with cobbles, cars mostly tend to stay away from the centre, making it the perfect place for a relaxed stroll. You can just get lost (or follow the historical walking route) while taking in the shimmering white façades. At the edge of town, tucked away behind a small bridge, lays the Second World War memorial as Thorn was a town on the front line for months in 1944.
This came as quite a surprise to me. I am from the south of the Netherlands and I was always convinced that the southern provinces were all liberated in September 1944, but when Operation Market Garden in the east of The Netherlands near the Rhine river failed, a lot of areas close to the German border remained under siege for months. And this was the case for Thorn as well until it was finally liberated by the heavily understaffed Belgian Brigade Piron.
What to see in Thorn
- The abbey church
Oddly enough, the abbey church is one of the few buildings in town that isn’t white. But don’t worry, the interior of the church is. The oldest part of the abbey church dates back to the 10th century, though the building has been completely renovated in the 19th century by Pierre Cuypers who also designed Amsterdam Central Station and the Rijksmuseum.
- Museum het land van Thorn
The town’s museum is actually rather interesting, as Thorn has such a fascinating history. The exhibition consists of ancient excavations and historical objects.
Plan your trip to Thorn
- From either Amsterdam, Utrecht of Maastricht you can take a train to Weert, where you can change to a bus heading to Thorn. From Amsterdam, it will take you 2.5 hours, from Maastricht approximately 1 hour. In The Netherlands, you can easily get around on public transport with an OV Chipcard.
- There are several nice hotels in and around Thorn (yes, in whitewashed buildings!). Check out deals and lowest rates.
- Limburg is one of The Netherlands’ loveliest provinces. Visit capital Maastricht when you go to Limburg. Read my article about where to shop, eat and sleep in Maastricht.