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Menkemaborg in Uithuizen: Dressed to impress

Groningen has three nearby manor houses or “stately homes” that are open to the public and furnished to allow visitors to learn about local history.

I’ve written about one of them before: Fraeylemaborg, which I only half-mockingly referred to as the “ancestral home.” Another is Menkemaborg, a similarly impressive display of wealth and social position far from the centers of power.

A front view of Menkemaborg. Ahead is a small bridge. Beyond that, a gravel courtyard and a central green square with trimmed shrubbery. Beyond that is the bulding itself: a center doorway with 5 tall windows on either side of it on the ground floor and a much smaller window above each one on the upper floor. The building is made of red brick, and the windows upstairs each have a shutter to one side that is painted in white and black triangles. The roof is also quite high, but if there are rooms their windows are not on this side. Menkemaborg makes a very grand first impression.
Mekemaborg in Uithuizen as seen coming up the tree-lined driveway.

Menkemaborg manor house

Menkemaborg makes an impression as you walk up the straight, tree-lined driveway. A pleasingly symmetrical structure, it doesn’t seem very large at first. Nearing the entrance, the moat comes into sight, along with a bridge leading to the front door. Two statues of lions flank the bridge: not the most skilled artworks I’ve ever seen. The expressions on their faces speak more of despair than grandeur.

One of the lions at Menkemaborg: he stands upright, clutching a coat of arms in his front claws. He looks to the right, with his eyes looking upward. the lion is painted brown except for the eyes and teeth, which are painted white, and gold claws. The coat of arms is white, with details in gold and blue.
One of the lions guarding the entrance. He looks rather forlorn, doesn’t he?

There’s no specially-built visitor’s entrance here. Once you’ve paid your ticket, you walk up to that big front door right in the center of the picture and open it as if you were a visiting guest. Inside, that feeling continues: the rooms are decorated with furnishings from the 17th and 18th century, but objects of everyday use are also set out in a way that suggests that the person using them only just left the room.

Menkemaborg history

The original brick house on this site, built in the 14th century, has been added to and changed over the centuries. At first just a simple rectangle, it was expanded to a U-shape in the early 17th century.

In 1700, the owners at the time, Unico Allard Alberda and his wife, Everdina Cornera van Berum, made some significant changes. They expanded it further, moved the front door to its present location, and ensured that the whole house looked symmetrical in the Baroque style of the time, with a wide hall down the center and nearly identically-sized rooms on either side.

From this view, Menkemaborg looks like 3 row houses together, with three gables on the back of the house. The left-hand one is a tall step gable, while the other two are much simpler pointed gables. All three have what looks like a small chimney at the peak. The windows also vary in size. On the left two parts of the house the ground floor windows are tall and the upper floors are smaller. On the right-hand part (presumably the oldest), all of the windows are small.
From the back, Menkemaborg isn’t as symmetrical as the front.

The inside got some renovation at the same time, with artists creating pieces to order. The sculptor Jan de Rijk created the extremely ornate baroque mantelpieces.

The last inhabitant, a descendent of the Alberdas, died in 1902. The heirs gave the whole thing to the Groninger Museum in 1920 and it opened to visitors a few years later after a renovation. The rooms today are furnished entirely with pieces from the 17th and 18th century, just as if people still lived there.


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Menkemaborg interior

There’s no required order of seeing the rooms inside; you can wander around in any way you want. Each room, mostly roped off, has a sign explaining what various furnishings and artwork are.

The hallway

The hallway divides the house exactly in half. The portraits along the walls are from other stately homes that have been torn down.

The front room

The first room on the right as you enter the house was modernized at the end of the 18th century and, like all of the rooms, is decorated to that period. The mantelpiece is not original because of that modernization. On the wall you can find a portrait of the last inhabitant of the house, and also a portrait of the Wijchgel family from another estate. The two chairs in front of that portrait are the originals that appear in the portrait.

A pleasant light room in Menkemaborg, done in browns and light greens and yellows. This view shows the back of the sofa looking toward the fireplace. The painting above the mantel is obscured by the simple but elegant crystal chandelier that holds candles. A yellow chair near the fireplace, next to a table set for tea. A bouquet of flowers, also next to the fireplace on the floor in a porcelain vase.
The front room

Notice, when you visit, the beautiful crystal chandelier and the big cupboard holding antique Chinese porcelain. The walls are covered in silk damask. Chinese products like these were very popular among the wealthier classes during the heyday of the Dutch East India Company in the early 17th century. Being able to afford such imports in your home was a clear sign of high status.

The gentlemen’s room

Across the hall (i.e. the first room on the left as you enter the house) is the herenkamer, which, loosely translated, means “gentlemen’s room.” It has a built-in buffet that can be hidden entirely behind two doors. You can also see more imported Chinese porcelain. The mantelpiece is an original Jan van Rijk.

The doors to the buffet (more like a big closet) open outwards. Inside is a sideboard, with cabinets below and shelves above, covered with a blue and white porcelein set. The walls of the inside of the closet and the insdes of the door are painted with classical scenes: some sort of arched building on the back wall and large columns on the door.
The buffet in the gentlemen’s room is ornately painted on the inside.

The dining room

Next to the gentlemen’s room is the dining room. The dishes on the table and the buffet date to the 18th century. The silverware bears the symbol of the Alberda family, so the set is original to this estate.

The Menkemaborg dining room has a relatively modest looking table, set for six people, with a white tablecloth, silver candlesticks, and what looks like fine china and silverware. The chairs are simple yet elegant, with gently curved backs and upholstery in dark reddish-purple. The room's floor is wood boards, but the table and chairs sit on an oriental carpet.
Menkemaborg dining room

The great hall

Across the hall from the dining room, the grote zaal, literally “big room,” is dressed to impress. It still holds one of the original mantelpieces carved by Jan van Rijk and the ostentatiously carved chairs are another sign of status. It doesn’t seem to me that they would be particularly comfortable to sit in.

From mantel height to the ceiling, the mantelpiece is carved, with a frilly rim below, naked female figures on the corners, and an ornately-carved oval frame in the middle, framing a scene, probably from classical mythology, invloving a naket woman surrounded by three dressed people, with another naked woman and a baby reclining at her feet.
Jan van Rijk mantelpiece

The elegant crystal chandelier, the cabinets, the Persian carpet: pretty much everything in the room is meant to display wealth.

This chandelier is particularly elegant: just arms of crystal in several tiers that curl down and then up. Some of them hold candles. Some of them have a single hanging ornament of crystal.
The crystal chandelier in the great hall.

The study

Up the small stairway at the end of the central hall, on the right, you’ll find the library/study. Besides an 18th-century desk, this room shows some typical children’s toys of the time. Many of the items in this room – the paintings, for example, and the linen wallpaper – come from other stately homes that no longer stand.

In the foreground, a square table with two chairs. On the table a lamp and teacups. Behind it, against the wall on the right, is a wooden cabinet with glass doors. On top are some pieces of blue and white porcelain. Inside are rows of books. IN the background is a secretary, open for writing. It has many drawers above and also slots for papers. A simple cushioned chair sits in front of it. Between the book cupboard and the secretary hangs a painting, though it is unclear what it portrays. ON the left, on the edge of the photo, is a small doll-sized chair holding an old-fashioned doll.
The study

The bedroom

Also up the small stairway, opposite the study, is the bedroom. The grand four-poster bed dates to the early 18th century and the cloth is the original Chinese silk damask. Guests slept here – again, impressions were important – while the family slept upstairs, in rooms that are now closed to the public and were probably distinctly less grand.

This photo is vertical of necessity because the roof of the four-poster bed reaches the high ceiling. The woodwork at the top as well as the curtains at each corner are pastel yellow. The headboard of the bed is partly visible and is ornately carved, also painted yellow. The wall behind had yellow wallpaper (or silk?) with a pattern of blue on it. Next to the bed is a small cupboard and a painting of a child hangs above it. At the foot of the bed is a simple round table with two upholstered yellow chairs and a small tea set in its middle.
The bedroom.

The kitchen

Downstairs are the more modest rooms, in an older part of a building from before the extensive renovation of 1700. The kitchen has a low ceiling with heavy roof beams, and colorful tiles cover the walls. It looks like a place of hard, honest work, yet has a homey, comfortable air to it at the same time.

Off the kitchen, down a flight of stairs, is a storage cellar. Also off the kitchen are the rooms where the cook and perhaps others must have slept, complete with bedstees, i.e. cabinet beds.

the kitchen's walls are tiled in green and yellow, while the floor is simple dark red tile. In this picture are two tables: on the left is a chld-sized wooden table with two chairs and on the right a regular table with a green tablecloth. Behind is a counter with copper pots and other kitchen items next to a fireplace with an iron stove in it and a door in the wall, presumably for baking. A sort of ruffled curtain hangs around the chimney above. The ceiling is quite low and has heavy beams across it. Sausages hang from a rod between two of the beams.
The kitchen.

The gardens of Menkemaborg

This rather grand house has a moat directly around it, but also has another moat, in a neat square shape, further away. The formal gardens between the two moats have been restored according to the original garden plans from 1705, in a symmetrical, baroque style.

On one side – the right as you are looking at the front of the house – the “Pleasure Garden” is all precise lines and colorful flowers according to strict symmetry. Carefully trimmed hedges define the spaces. Here and there are statues on classical themes, mostly not of the best quality, in my view, but somehow fitting the tidy formality of the garden.

Carefully trimmed, low bushes in neatly curved shapes. Very green, with green grass on the ground between the curves.
a small segment of the Pleasure Garden, just to give an impression.

Beyond the Pleasure Garden on the same side is an interesting Sundial Garden. The markings on the ground of each time of day are plants: topiary yew shrubs.

Behind the manor house is a maze, restored just recently, where you can spend some time getting lost. The reward for reaching the middle is an ancient plane tree.

The land to the left as you face the house once supplied food for the manor. A kitchen garden produces the same vegetables that the inhabitants must have eaten back then. It also supplied medicinal herbs and spices for the household. If you’re there in the middle of the summer, the rose arbor that crosses the kitchen garden is pretty spectacular.

The bright pink roses form an arch over a pathway in the garden at Menkemaborg. Beyond is a neatly trimmed tree.
the rose arbor

In the orchard next to the kitchen garden, a range of heirloom apple and pear varieties grow. I enjoyed strolling through the pear tunnel, where about 20 varieties of pears have been trained to grow in the form of an arch.

Around the outside of these formal gardens is a square of dense woods, with trees that are clearly very old. The next square, outside of the forested square, has green fields and fishponds.

In the orchard at Menkemaborg, the photo shows a wide path straight ahead, with green, leafy trunks and branches bending over it, forming a dark archway. The sunlight comes through here and there, dappling the ground.
The pear tunnel.

Het Schathuis

What was once the stable, brewery, bakery and worker’s housing is now Het Schathuis, a café. Go inside and you can see how it must have held the horses and other livestock as well as living quarters for grooms and drivers. On a nice day, Het Schathuis is an atmospheric place to have a drink or meal outside, enjoying the view of the main house.

The photo of Het Schathuis at Menkemaborg in Uithuizen shows the side of the building: a triangular shape with a flat redbrick face. Small windows pierce it here and there. A small part of the front of the building is visible, covered in ivy, and just on the edge of the picture one of the chairs of the outdoor part of the cafe is visible.
Het Schathuis, as seen from the house.

Information for visiting Menkemaborg

Getting there

Menkemaborg is on Menkemaweg 2, Uithuizen, about 30-45 minutes north of Groningen by car or train.

By car, take the N46 toward Eemshaven or the N361 to the N363. Plenty of parking is available. Don’t drive up the driveway to the house; the entrance to the parking lot is just to the left of the driveway entrance.

From Groningen’s central train station, take the train toward Roodeschool. The 7th stop is Uithuizen. From Uithuizen station, it is about a 10-minute walk.

Opening hours

Open March to September, Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-17:00. In July and August it’s also open on Mondays 10:00-17:00. In October to December, opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-16:00. It’s open on holidays including Good Friday, Easter Monday and both Christmas days, but closes for the months of January and February.

Admission prices

Admission to both the house and the garden is €7.50 ($8.25), while admission to just the garden is €5.00 ($5.50). But really, if you’ve come so far, it’s worth the extra €2.50 to take a look inside, isn’t it?

PInnable image Text: Menkemaborg: Dressed to Impress Image: front view of Menkemaborg
PInnable image Text: Menkemaborg: Dressed to Impress Image: a statue of a lion looking forlorn

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