At Home with Groningen’s Rural Gentry
Elsewhere in the Netherlands you will find castles, in Groningen we have borgen — manor houses, which were the homes of the rural gentry. Most of them started out as thick-walled brick-built houses, and over time expanded into the stately homes of today, or actually of the 17th & 18th centuries, to be precise. Only sixteen borgen are still in place; the rest were sold for their materials, the last one having been demolished in 1903. My favourite borg is the Menkemaborg in Uithuizen, which in its current form dates from around 1700, when Unico Allard Alberda commissioned architect Allert Meijer to redesign the house & garden to meet the taste of the time for symmetry. Today the borg is a museum that conveys a striking impression of how the Groningen squiredom lived.
Only a few furniture pieces at the borg have been around forever; most of what you see today came from elsewhere, especially from borgen that no longer exist. The museum therefore shows not how it was, but how it could have been. Of special interest are five oak mantelpieces by Allert Meijer & Jan de Rijk, all with overmantel paintings by Herman Collenius, the grand state bed in the style of Daniel Marot, lavishly upholstered with Chinese silk damask, and the largest extant cabinet organ in the country, dating from 1777. The borg is surrounded by a formal garden in Dutch classicist style; children will appreciate the maze until the moment they realize that they are trapped, while their parents are enjoying themselves in the delightful rose archway, just out of earshot.menkemaborg.nl