Visitors’ centre is a gateway to history in Den Bosch, the Netherlands

The site of an historic gateway in the Dutch town of Den Bosch has been transformed into a visitors’ centre, which offers locals and tourists a starting point for guided tours and boat trips as well a place to relax and eat. The Bulwark Saint John building has been partially constructed underground and shares its structure with some of the town’s ancient features. The roof of the centre acts as public park complete with seating areas and trees.

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The site of an historic gateway in the Dutch town of Den Bosch has been transformed into a visitors’ centre, which offers locals and tourists a starting point for guided tours and boat trips © Bulwark Saint John visitors centre The site of an historic gateway in the Dutch town of Den Bosch has been transformed into a visitors’ centre, which offers locals and tourists a starting point for guided tours and boat trips © Bulwark Saint John visitors centre

" Bulwark Saint John has become a lively spot to relax and to meet other people. It provides citizens and visitors with an authentic acquaintance to the town’s features. "

Huibert Crijns, Heritage Department – Municipality of ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Saint John’s Bulwark used to be one of the four main entrances to the old fortified town of Den Bosch. The scheme’s architects have used this history as inspiration for their design. Remains of the gate, town walls and a medieval cobblestone pavement, found during archaeological excavations, were retained during construction of the centre.

Volunteer support

The project led to the creation of six permanent full-time jobs. The centre also provides work for four people in sheltered employment. A team of around 60 volunteers act as hosts and hostesses, boat skippers, tour guides and board members. Plus, the on-site caterer offers trainee posts to young waiters and cooks. The Bulwark centre is owned by the municipality of Den Bosch, which rents it to a heritage association called Friends of Den Bosch. This voluntary organisation manages the facility, which is open to the public from 9 a.m to 11 p.m 365 days a year.

The building’s angular design references the fortress that used to stand on the site. The history of the Bulwark is presented to the public using state-of-the-art 3D presentations along an ‘archaeological experience walk’ inside the visitors’ centre.

High-tech build

While history is a major theme, the building itself embraces some very modern technology. The floor surface lies only 0.5 metres above the local river’s waterline, but in wet periods the water can rise up to a height of 2.5 metres. To keep the building dry, a demountable weir can be placed between the main walls to keep the water out and the premises open. The rooftop park has been designed to absorb rainwater – while in dry weather a system of sensors and computer-controlled drip pipes ensure the trees and plants stay properly watered.

Bulwark Saint John is part of the oldest water defence line in the Netherlands: the Southern Waterline. The line consisted of a series of forts which spanned the entire length of the country. This project is part of a wider collaborative initiative that embraces other, similar heritage projects along the Southern Waterline. Passenger boats departing from the Bulwark connect Den Bosch with a number of other walled towns along the River Meuse.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Bulwark Saint John visitors centre” is EUR 2 100 000, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 1 000 000 through the “South Netherlands” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “The Urban Dimension”.

Draft date

22/02/2019