Sorghvliet – Leave your worries at the gate

In the 17th century there were no mindfulness courses or yoga retreats. So people had to find other ways to relax. Those who had money, built country houses on beautiful estates. Their gardens provided the fresh air and open space needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of the crowded cities.

Jacob Cats and his house

Sorghvliet muur poortJacob Cats (1577-1660) held the office of “raadspensionaris van Holland” for 15 years. This position –somewhat like a prime minister today — put him at the center of Dutch politics during our Golden Age. In the dune area between The Hague and Scheveningen he built a house and park and named his estate” Sorghvliet”. “Sorgh” (in modern Dutch, “zorg”) means “worry”. “Vliet” derives from the verb “vlieden”, which means to run away or flee. So Sorghvliet was the place where Jacob Cats could flee from his daily worries. He chose a spot near the Haagse Beek, to have a good water supply.

Construction of the estate was not easy. The dune area needed to be plowed and leveled. High dikes were built to prevent the sand from coming back and covering the gardens. Thanks to his excellent contacts with scholars at the Leiden University, Cats could lay his hands on rare seeds, cuttings, bulbs and tuberous plants. Traces of both the dikes and the plants are still to be found in the park.

After his retirement Cats was able to reside full-time in Sorghvliet. So he built the mansion that we now know as the Catshuis.

Formal garden and landscape park

In the 18th century, house and garden became the property of the Bentinck family. In accord with garden fashion of the time, the garden of Sorghvliet was redesigned to have the symmetry and geometric patterns that we see today at Versailles. Sorghvliet had that look for almost a century. By the beginning of the 19th century, however, these patterns had disappeared, perhaps as a result of poor maintenance or another redesign in what was then the latest fashion in garden design: the English landscape garden.

The estate passed into royal possession in 1837, when Crown Prince Willem (later King Willem II) bought the estate and then enlarged it by purchasing adjacent properties. His steward Ary van der Spuy played an important role as manager of the estate. Willem’s plan was to build a new royal palace, an idea that surfaced again at the start of the reign of Queen Wilhelmina around 1901, but was never carried through.

sorghvliet boshyacintThe neighborhood around the park

In 1903 the estate was bought by the development company “Het park Zorgvliet”. Adriaan Goekoop,  one of the main shareholders, later purchased the house and surrounding grounds, and lived in the Catshuis with his family. The rest of the estate was developed as the residential district “Zorgvliet villa park”. In 1920 Goekoop commissioned the building of the surrounding wall which was renovated in 2016.

During WWII the Germans were persuaded to not build fortifications for their Atlantikwall in Sorghvliet. However, they cut down many trees and launched V-2 rockets from the entrance drive.

Open to the public

CatshuisIn 1955 the Dutch government bought the parkland around the Catshuis, again with plans to build a royal palace, this time for Queen Juliana. No luck this third time, either! In a period of massive housing shortages, it was not acceptable to spend public money on a royal palace. To put the park to use, it was opened to the public (with an annual ticket). The Catshuis itself  was bought by the Government from the Goekoop family in 1961. It still serves as the official residence of the Dutch prime minister, although no prime minister has actually lived there since 1982.

For security reasons, house and park are separated by a high fence. But clearly this fence means nothing to Nature. Snowdrops and bluebells grow in abundance on both sides of the fence.

I don’t go to mindfulness classes and don’t leave my house for a yoga retreat. Every January I spend less than 10 euros on an annual ticket that gives me the right to enter park Sorghvliet. It provides me with countless hours of tranquility, relaxation and the joy of nature. With great thanks to Jacob Cats.

Annual tickets are for sale at Boekhandel Scheveningen, Paagman and VVV Centrale Bibliotheek

Video: Het verhaal van Sorghvliet en het Catshuis

I tell you more about parks and buildings in The Hague during my city walks and bicycle tours.

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4 thoughts on “Sorghvliet – Leave your worries at the gate”

  1. Dominique Reed

    Hello there, so interesting to read about the rich beautiful history. My husband and I have just relocated from South Africa, only been here for a couple of days now. Every time I take the tram I wonder about the significance of the street names as we are advised what the next stop is now I know some history so far. Thank you.

  2. Very interesting. I was born in den Haag but moved away as a child. i visit Holland frequently , I know very little about the city. I’m interested to participate in your tours. Thank you

    1. Jacqueline Alders

      Thank you for your comment. Let me know when you are in Holland and want to schedule a tour. I look forward to guiding you through The Hague!

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