Delfshaven is the name of part of Rotterdam, and since 1994 it has certain delegated municipal rights under the Rotterdam city council. But whoever says Delfshaven, thinks first and foremost of Historical Delfshaven, the atmospheric part of town round the Aelbrechtskolk and Voorhaven.

Buildings such as the Zakkendragershuisje (the little house that reminds us of the work of those who carried the cargo of ships in sacks on and off board), the Old Townhall, the Old or Pilgrimfathers’ Church, the former warehouse, later museum De Dubbelde Palmboom (the double palm tree), the premises where Henkes, the distiller, had its firm, and the mill “De Distilleerketel” (the still) all point to a rich history. This history started in 1389 when Count Aelbrecht of Holland granted Delft permission to dig a canal to the river Maas. With access to sea independence from Rotterdam was secured. This canal, the Delfshaven Schie, runs from Overschie (then called Ouderschie) Southwards to the river Maas. At the junction of the Delfshaven Schie and the Schielandse Hoge Zeedijk the harbour of Delft, Delfshaven, arose. The first houses were built along the Kolk (now called Aelbrechtskolk) and the harbour, currently Voorhaven. The two main landmarks from the earliest times on were the Old Townhall, and the church.

In 1451 a second harbour was dug, the New Harbour, Nieuwe Haven, currently known as Achterhaven. This signifies economic growth. In those times herring fishing was the most important source of income for the population. In the early 16th century the little village counted 117 houses and around 400 inhabitants.


This economic growth came to an abrupt end when Delfshaven was burnt to the ground completely in 1488, during a period of unrest called “Hoekse en Kabeljauwse Twisten” named after the two opposing local factions. Not only the houses, but also the boats in the harbour were burnt by a group of 300 Hoek-sympathisers. Nevertheless, Delfshaven managed to rebuild and resurrect itself and after 1536, when a fire destroyed a large part of mother city Delft, this was advantageous to Delfshaven, and the little hamlet grew in importance. In fact, if it had not been for protectionary regulations from Delft forbidding ship repairing activities, Delfshaven would have soon surpassed Delft.

Another blow came in 1572, five days after the liberation of Den Briel from the Spanish forces, Delfshaven too was set free by the Geuzen, the ‘guerilla-force’ taking their name from a French word for beggar, under leadership of Lumey. However, less than a week later, the roles were reversed again: the Spaniards had returned and caused huge damage and destruction. After four months of terror they left, this time for good, and the population heaved a sigh of relief. To prevent this happening again, earthworks were erected (schansen) around Delfshaven.

Piet Heyn (1577 - 1629)

In 1577 Delfshaven’s most famous son was born. Piet Heyn, son of a herring fisherman, conqueror of the Spanish Silver fleet, a convoy of ships carrying treasure. This heroic act earned him a statue in his place of birth, which was revealed in 1870 by King William III. In 1871 a house was built in old Dutch style on the site where Piet Heyn had been born, then called Kerkhofsteeg, now called Piet Heynstraat, carrying the arms of the sea-hero. The actual house had been demolished some 50 years earlier.


A religious conflict caused much upheaval in 1634. The aftermath of this church-political turmoil caused some dozen large herring fishing companies to move with their ships to Rotterdam, where they were more than welcome. In order to prevent further damage Delft now granted Delfshaven more economic freedom, so that new firms were attracted such as shipbuilding yards, tanneries, and coopers.

Much business was also generated by the VOC, the Dutch East India Company. In Delfshaven spices from India were loaded onto riverboats and taken to Delft. At the Buizenwaal, a harbour built in 1602, the VOC had a wharf, next to which in 1672 a sea warehouse was built.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the main industry in Delfshaven was the distillery of korenwijn (grain wine) and jenever. The best known firm is that of J. H. Henkes at the Voorhaven, established in 1824. Through the flourishing of this industry the city-scape was enriched with malting mills. Only “De Distilleerketel” (the still), a mill built in 1727 can still be seen today, restored to its former glory.

More about the history of our heritage-ship building yards? Click here(Dutch)


The changes of 1795 brought Delfshaven what they would never have managed otherwise: independence from Delft. Unilaterally the new patriotic ruling class of Delfshaven, led by Jan Kruijff in 1795, cut the ties with Delft. This independence, however, only lasted for eight years. In 1803 Delfshaven resorted under Delft again, but another eight years further and Delfshaven and Schoonderloo together formed a separate municipality, to which the Coolpolder (now Nieuwe Westen) and the Bospolder also belonged.

In 1825 Delfshaven officially obtained city-rights. By now, Delfshaven had little benefit from its independence. The town suffered from an economic crisis, partly due to the demise of the VOC in 1798 and the closure of many of the shipyards. Left no other choice by debt and poverty, Delfshaven asked as early as 1841 to be taken on by Rotterdam. Rotterdam, at first, declined, but after some forty years this happened anyway. By this time Rotterdam was in urgent need of land, which was in ample supply around Delfshaven. And so, on January 30, 1886, Delfshaven became a part of Rotterdam. Because Rotterdam was developing fast, soon Delfshaven became wedged between residential areas and harbours, and in the 20th century the little old town suffered greatly under the modernisation that the big city brought: for example, in 1909 the Schiedamseweg was made, for which several old premises between the Kolk and the Mathenesserdijk had to be demolished. The same happened when in 1923 the Coolhaven was made.

Not until after the Second World War, with Rotterdam’s own historical heart destroyed by bombs, did the realisation dawn that it was important to preserve what was left of the old Delfshaven. Since 1969 part of Delfshaven is protected as listed monuments. Delfshaven is no longer a real harbour, when the sluice between the Kolk and the Achterhaven was closed in 1836, that was the beginning of the end, and after annexation by Rotterdam there was little point in maintaining direct access to the sea from Delfshaven. Nowadays the Nieuwe Maas can only be reached from the Aelbrechtskolk indirectly. Direct access was lost in 1966 when the Schiemond was closed.