The Menkemaborg in Uithuizen (province of Groningen, the Netherlands) is a beautifully furnished historic house surrounded by canals and gardens. It gives a fine impression of the way of life in a Groningen manor in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In 2007 the Menkemaborg was awarded the BankGiro Loterij Museum Prize.
The centuries old Menkemaborg is located in the far north-eastern part of the Netherlands. The house dates from the fourteenth century and has been enlarged in the course of time. A stone in the northeast wall relates: "ANNO 1400 IS MENCKEMAHUES VORNELT ANNO 1614 DORCH GOTS GNADE GEREPARERT" (in the year 1400 the Menkema house was destroyed and in 1614 was rebuilt by God's mercy). Before 1400 "Menkema house" was a simple rectangular brick-built fortification, a so-called "stone house" the shape of which can still be recognized in the basement. In the province of Groningen stone houses were numerous, many of them were later developed into manors. Only sixteen of the almost two hundred manors nowadays remain. The name "borg" or "burg" means a fortified place or castle. In the seventeenth century the Menkemaborg was rebuilt on an u-shaped ground plan, facing towards the north-east. In 1682 Mello Alberda acquired the Menkemaborg and among other things enclosed the inner courtyard. The Alberda family were residents until the death of the last occupant in 1902. In 1921 the estate was donated by the heirs to the Groningen Museum. After a period of restoration it was opened to the public in 1927.
In 1701 Mello's son, Unico Allard, married Everdina Cornera van Berum. This couple ambitiously rebuilt the Menkemaborg. Under the supervision of Allert Meijer, who later became city architect of the city of Groningen, the manor received its present shape. Meijer gave the house and the surrounding gardens a well-balanced and symmetrical axial form. A long wide corridor cuts as it were the house in two and the most important rooms are situated symmetrically to both sides. Allert Meijer designed for five rooms imposing mantelpieces. The sculptor Jan de Rijk provided these with beautiful baroque woodcarvings. Above the mantelpieces are paintings by Hermannus Collenius, depicting scenes from Greek mythology. The most important room of the house is the large salon, a fact which is emphasized by the enormous chimneypiece. Other rooms in the house are a gentlemen's room, a dining room, a ladies' drawing-room, a study and a bed or guest-room. On the lower floor are the kitchen and the cellars. The rooms are fully furnished with fine furniture, china, silverware and brassware and portrait paintings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The impression is created that the residents can return any minute. The most important piece of furniture is the early eighteenth century state bed covered with yellow Chinese silk damask. The style of the state bed was influenced by the designs of Daniel Marot, a refugee Huguenot from France. Around 1700 he had great influence on the architecture and the interior decoration in the Netherlands and in England.
The gardens were reconstructed after the preserved garden design dating from around 1705, and are marked by a clear layout with symmetrical patterns and paths. A particularly pretty part is the walled pleasure garden in front of the pavilion, with its trellised arches and arbours. In the symmetrical long garden next to it a variety of flowers and plants, current in Dutch gardens in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, grow in parterres which are lined by box trees and divided by cone-shaped yew trees. In the next garden a sundial was laid-out with box, using yew for hour indications and a yellow wooden hour hand to indicate the time. Behind the house there are simple, symmetrically arranged parterres, filled in with red gravel and grass. To the left there is the large maze of beech hedges with at the heart an old plane tree. To the east of the mansion is the utility area with an orchard with ancient strains of apple trees and an pear-tree pergola. In the kitchen garden there are symmetrical compartments laid-out with box in which all kinds of vegetables and herbs grow. The choice of plants is partly determined by the ingredients specified in the recipes in old cookery books preserved at the Menkemaborg. In summer, the flowering rose tunnel is not to be missed.
In the meadow on the other side of the outer moat are two ponds, the "pike pond" and the "fish pond". In the forecourt the "schathuis", part of the former farm, is now a cafeacute; and pancake restaurant. In the eighteenth century it was used as a barn, stabling cattle, horses and coaches, and storing the crops. It also housed a butchery, a brewery and a dairy.
About 25.000 visitors visit the Menkemaborg yearly. House and gardens are open from March to January Tuesday - Sunday and from June to October every day from 10 - 5. A yearly exhibition is fully incorporated in the already furnished rooms. The various themes relate to the history and way of life at a ''borg'', or to particular objects or parts of the interior. All information about the house and the exhibition is available in seven languages. Appropriate activities like a fair, a lecture, a workshop, a concert or a candlelight evening are held throughout the year.
The Menkemaborg is run by a small staff and a small group of volunteers. To keep the historic buildings and gardens in good shape is an important task and challenge. Beside the income from ticket sales and shop proceeds, the Menkemaborg is subsidised by the province (Groningen), the municipality (Eemsmond) and the Association of Friends of the Menkemaborg. For a healthy budget and for special, costly projects it is necessary to find subsidisers or sponsors. Winning the 2007 BankGiro Loterij Museum Prize of euro; 100.000,- was a very welcome surprise. With the money we hope to renovate the old maze, restore the pigeon house, start with an audio-tour and the renewal of the old Menkemaborg guide.
Since 1991 the Dutch Museum Prize is a two year prize of euro; 50.000,- , financed by the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, an important fund for various cultural activities. A jury makes a selection of museums in a certain category and chooses the winner. In 2007 the BankGiro Loterij, a large bank lottery, participated in the Museum Prize. Not only was the prize money doubled, but after the members of the jury had nominated four castle museums (the category of 2007), it was for the public to vote by e-mail for the winner.
The Menkemaborg had to compete with two medieval castles and a large eighteenth century castle in densely populated parts in the centre and west of the Netherlands. We started a campaign of sending out postcards and e-mails. Press releases and advertisements were published. The province, the municipal and the Association of Friends gave financially assistance. We were supported as well by local radio and television and many, many people. All this resulted in a nearly 44% vote for the Menkemaborg!
Early November The BankGiro Loterij Museum Prize was presented by HRH Princess Margriet in Amsterdam. The next weekend we invited all voters for a free visit to the Menkemaborg where all kinds of special activities took place. This initiative attracted 3400 visitors!
The jury put the Menkemaborg on the first place as well and in their report they remarked among other things: ''The interior is highly professional and well looked after, the selection of the objects is well-considered and on a high standard. Interior and design are in extremely good repair. Everything shows a deep love for the building and its contents, a fine sense of taste and a careful attention for details. All aspects have been given a great deal of thought and nowhere an object has been placed without a reason. Each object tells its own story and has a function in the whole.''
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