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The Manor Of Tilburg

  • Submitted by: Tara Downey, Australia
  • Submission Date: 05th May 2008

Tilburg is in Noord-Brabant - the southern province of the Netherlands - and is the 6th largest city in the country.

The city is first mentioned in 8th Century documents but it wasn’t proclaimed a manor until 600 years later. Manorial rights fell into the hands of several Lords whose income came from taxes, fines and interest paid by the villagers. In the 15th Century, one of the Lords built Tilburg Castle. In 1858, however, the castle was demolished to make way for a factory and it can now only be seen as a picture on the city arms and logo.

The city grew around a “herd place” – three-cornered plots where a number of roads met, pasturelands for flocks of sheep. Farmers started to weave wool themselves, which was the beginning of a textile enterprise, with as many as 145 textile mills in the late 19th Century. This tradition continued until the industry collapsed in the mid- 1900s and the mills closed down.

King William II (1792-1849) once said of Tilburg - "Here I can breathe freely and I feel happy here". He invested a lot of his time and money into the city; improving sheep breeding, building new farms and founding a cavalry barracks. In the 19th Century, a palace was built to be his home, but he died before it was finished and it’s now part of City Hall.

Today, the city is teaming with young people. The University of Tilburg is one of the most prestigious in the country and thousands of students flock to attend each year. With so many students, it’s no wonder the streets in the centre of town are filled with pubs and clubs.

Tilburg prides itself on its beautiful parks and gardens – particularly Leij Park. I spent many summer days here, sitting on the lush green grass under the shade of the trees, writing in my diary and simply breathing in the fresh air and beauty.

Beekse Bergen on the outskirts of town is a safari park where wild animals roam free on the plains. The reserve has more than a thousand animals, including lions, rhinos, hyenas and zebras.

I visited Drunense Duinen - the “Dutch dessert”, about 10km north of Tilburg. It is one of the largest areas of drifting sand in Europe. A third consists of bare sand hills and plains, while the rest is overgrown with pine-forests and bushes. It formed when the inhabitants of the region cut down the trees for firewood. Walking among the sand dunes was relaxing, but I kept expecting to see the ocean.

In July, I was treated to the annual FunFair, or Kermis - the largest in the Netherlands. I went first on the Monday, or Pink Monday, a special day of celebrations for gay men and women. The tradition is for all festival goers to wear pink and pink parades charge through the streets to the sounds of techno music, whistles and clapping.

In February, Tilburg comes alive again with its annual celebration of Carnival. Held the weekend before Lent, Carnival – meaning “without meat” - is a traditionally Catholic festival held in the south of the Netherlands.

It’s a weeklong event, highlighted by three main days of partying, singing, dancing and dressing up. Everyone takes part in the festivities, no matter what age.

Carnival in the Netherlands has a long history, believed to date back more than 3000 years, but it was modernized after World War II. Today, with changing times, the celebration is not so much religious-based, as it is simply a party where everyone in town is expected to forget their troubles and have a great time.

Each city has its own colours to mark the festivities, and the town and people are decorated in these colours. For Tilburg, the colours are green and orange. Everyone dresses up for the occasion.

I celebrated this with some of my local friends, as well as another girl from Australia, Sarah, who I’d met on my tour of Europe in 2003 and who’d flown over from where she was living in London for the celebrations. We dressed up in costumes each night and headed in to the city to pubs packed with partygoers.

On Sunday afternoon, a parade was held through the city. The parade focussed on Tilburgse traditions – specific to the province - including dialogue and folktales. I couldn’t read any of the signs in the parade, though my Dutch was quite good by this time, my Tilburgse was not.

Carnival as a whole was an awesome experience. The entire city shut down for those few days and nothing seemed to matter except having fun. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

In Tilburg, I always felt welcome. Although the architecture is completely different to Australia, the warmth in the smiles of people around me was not. I was welcomed into the homes of strangers and treated as though I was one of them. It gave me a true sense of belonging and in my heart Tilburg will always be my second-home and the people there will always be my second family.