Some landmarks just can’t be replaced. Some historical buildings are worth preserving for posterity. Sometimes that just doesn’t go to plan. Last weekend, a building in the Dutch city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch that was well-known to the artist Hieronymus Bosch simply collapsed with no warning, leaving nothing more than rubble. In the midst of celebrating the 500th anniversary of his death, this is a minor disaster for Den Bosch.

Yesterday evening I was researching another blog post and was reading about a carnival tradition that takes place every year on the market square in Den Bosch (full name, ‘s-Hertogenbosch). Little did I know that one of the buildings I was looking at in a video of the square had been reduced to a pile of rubble at the weekend. A friend told me about it earlier today and said that the moment it happened had been caught on a security camera inside the chemist’s opposite. It is quite surreal.

Fortunately there was nobody inside the building nor anyone walking past it at the time. It was just before 11 o’clock on a Saturday evening, so the fact that there were no passers-by is nothing short of a miracle. The man who owns the souvenir shop next door puts it down to the protective powers of the statues of the Virgin Mary he sells in his shop. He could be right: nothing in his shop has been disturbed at all!

The Pearle optician’s that was housed in the building was being renovated. The builders had started work, clearing the shop after closing time around 5 p.m. and had left the premises about half an hour before it collapsed. The contractor took some tracking down and now everyone is waiting for a statement about whether the building work could have been the cause. An expert has pointed out that such an old building has been tinkered with over the years, so this renovation may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

‘De Drye Vijzels’ – a building with a story

This building wasn’t just any old building, it was one with a colourful past. Built in 1637, it was used as a brothel both in its early years and in a 15-year period between 1885 and 1900. In the 20th century it was a successful café, the Café Tivoli. You can see lots of photos and pictures of it through the years on the local TV and radio site, Omroep Brabant. More recently it had housed a branch of Pearle, a national chain of opticians.

The building’s link to Hieronymus Bosch

This year is the 500th anniversary of the 16th century artist Hieronymus Bosch’s death (also known as Jheronimus or even the original Dutch Jeroen). The city of Den Bosch is making the most of this anniversary, with year-long celebrations and a major exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum, with many other activities. In fact, the artist used to live and work in the house next door to the collapsed building, De kleine kunst (tr. The Little Art). Bosch undoubtedly got some of his inspiration for the devilish goings-on in his paintings from the shenanigans of the brothel next door and the market people outside his front door; 30 years after his death, he was already referred to as the devil’s painter. Luckily his former house has not been damaged, though the profits of the souvenir shop will undoubtedly be affected as they will not be allowed to open for the foreseeable future while the cause of the collapse is investigated. Nevertheless, they will surely sell far more than normal in this year of Bosch-mania.

Devilish doings in Den Bosch

It has already been an unusual year in Den Bosch. The carnival parade in February had to be cancelled because stormy weather was expected. It was postponed until this coming weekend, 6 March, halfway through Lent, the mini-festival of Halfvasten. As the parade was supposed to pass right past the collapsed building, the local council and the carnival organisation has had to do some quick thinking this week and has agreed that the parade will pass through the market square but will turn off earlier to avoid the danger area, just in case the vibration triggers more collapsed buildings.

The row of houses was also supposed to be acting as the backdrop for a Hieronymus Bosch-inspired Bosch by Night light show starting on 4 March, with some of the most impressive images projected on to the lost building, simply because it was white: the perfect backdrop. Helaas! This has also had to be postponed until the site is cleared so that the show can go on, probably projected on to a screen. Perhaps they can build a temporary structure with canvas and scaffolding that looks like the original building, similar to the Donjon tower that graced the skyline of Nijmegen in 2005. How ironic that the Bosch500 site adds a disclaimer to the scheduled times:

“This time schedule is subject to changes (weather conditions, other events on the market square).”

I’m pretty sure they didn’t anticipate collapsing buildings as one of the ‘other events’!