The Lighthouse of Katwijk aan Zee
Katwijk aan Zee has in fact nowadays only two buildings that are more than a few centuries old. The lighthouse, also called the Fire-beacon (Vuurbaak) or Fire-light (Vierboet) is from 1605, and the Old or Andreas Church on the Boulevard is, partly, from 1465. Both of these are State monuments of the Netherlands.
Fire-beacon (Vuurbaak) in which a fire was lit at night
As long as people have lived along the coast, they have fished in the sea. But organized fishing as a means of living began in our region only at the end of the middle ages. Around 1320 the fishermen of the Southern Netherlands sailed out to sea. They started to fish for herring along the east coast of England. The fishermen of Katwijk also joined in. How long it took before the need for a light or fire beacon in the town arose is not known, but even before 1605 a beacon stood in Katwijk, in which a fire could be lit at night to guide the local fishermen home. Although we don’t know precisely, this was probably a stone tower. This Fire-beacon was threatened during the All Saint’s Day storm and flood in 1570 when a large area of the dunes was washed away . The houses and streets seawards of the Old Church were also washed away during the high flood, thus the church came to stand on the sea front - as it still does today.
The earliest mention of the lighthouse of Katwijk known is in the ‘Almanach of the Sailors’ of 1592, in which a description is given that 'from the sea a pointed church steeple is to be seen with, on it’s southern side, a huge fire-beacon so tall that people could mistake it for the church tower'. In the end the tower of this beacon slid down the dune or was demolished to re-use its precious stones again.
The one-but oldest Lighthouse of the Netherlands
A new lighthouse was built in 1605 on a sand dune, land inwards. Large stones (called kloostermoppen or cloister-capitals) have been found in it’s foundations - possibly recycled from the earlier fire-beacon. This is one of the oldest lighthouses of the Netherlands. Only the Brandaris on the island of Terschelling from 1594 is older and still in use.
In 1628 the Governor Frederik Hendrik - who at that time was the Master of both ‘Catwijks’- gave the rights to the Beacon-masters that they could levy a tax of a duit from every 15 stuivers that the fish market earned, for the upkeep of the beacon and for wood to keep it burning.
A bill from 1817 shows that the fish industry still had an interest in that is was still paying towards the upkeep of- the lighthouse.
The light on the Katwijk beacon was a so called fisher’s–light. It was only lit when boat’s of her own fleet were at sea.
For centuries the light came from a wood-bonfire that was lit in a basket on top of the flat roof of the tower: later the wood was replaced by coal. Halfway through the 19th century an enormous improvement was made by the installation of large oil-lamps with reflectors mounted in a light-housing. Old seamen did duty as lighthouse keepers in those times. When the flat-bottoms disappeared from the beach in 1912, the usefulness of the lighthouse and of it’s signal mast for the fishing industry also vanished.
The electric powered lights of the lighthouses of Noordwijk and Scheveningen are still of importance for present day shipping along the coast of South Holland. As explained, the Katwijk light had become totally redundant and was thus never fitted out with a strong electric light.
The War Years
The present tower was completely restored in 1901 when the walls were also reinforced - as can be seen at it’s entrance. During the 1st world war (1914-1918, when the Netherlands remained neutral) the Dutch Royal Navy used it as a look-out tower. The building was continually manned by three sailors. The signal-mast was also used again.
After the decommissioning of the tower, the ground area around it filled up with houses from about 1920.
In the first days of the 2nd world war in May 1940, the tower was once again used by the Dutch military - this time as a machine-gun post. After the coastal fortifications of the Atlantic Wall were built (coastal fortifications built by the Germans from Norway to Spain, using their own and local builders and much forced-labour), the German occupiers ordered the demolition of all of the houses round the Lighthouse and along the Boulevard to provide an open field-of-fire in the event of an allied landing. Fortunately they left the Old Church and the Lighthouse intact.
This clearing along the sea front was rebuilt a number of years after the war, leaving a newly created open plain - the Lighthouse Plain - on the north side of the tower.
Every summer season since 1968, the Lighthouse is opened to visitors by volunteers from the Katwijk Museum. Since 1980 the shrimp fishing-boat KW 88 ‘Zorg en Hoop’ (Trouble and Hope) is also displayed in the summer months alongside the tower.
In 2005 the 400th year jubilee of the Lighthouse was celebrated. The tower, after wrapping it in foil, was temporarily festooned with graffiti art to celebrate it’s anniversary.
The lighthouse of Katwijk also plays an important role in local idiomatic language. Whereas in other parts of the Netherlands it is said that babies ‘emerge from the red cabbage’ or are ‘brought by the storks’, in Katwijk they ‘come out of … the lighthouse’. So when you walk at dusk by the lighthouse you can often hear the babies crying inside …
The lighthouse nowadays can be used as a good look-out point. After climbing the stairs one emerges onto the gallery. This is about 30 metres above sea level and offers, on clear days, good long distance views. One can see The Hague and Scheveningen to the south (20 km) and, if it is clear, even Europort (35 km).
In the east lies Leiden (10 km) and in the north Noordwijk, Zandvoort, and by good weather IJmuiden and the steel furnaces of Hoogovens just beyond (30 km). At sea, oil installations and an old military fort on long legs may be seen. England is to the west at a distance of about 200 kilometres.