Historical Harbour City

GeneralHarlingen 10-2023

In the Frisian harbour city of Harlingen lies an eighteen-meter-long sperm whale made of resin. The life-sized artwork is created by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. They aim to raise awareness about the consequences of globalization and industrialization through their work.

The artist couple Allora & Calzadilla reside in Puerto Rico. Utilizing all the means available in contemporary art, they criticize the ruthless and violent exploitation of humans and nature. Their work is found in collections including MoMa in New York, the Centre Pompidou, and Tate Modern. They visited Harlingen and discovered that this city and its secrets align with their mission.

The power of the sea

Allora & Calzadilla were inspired by the story of the coast guard attempting to rescue a stranded sperm whale. “During our visit, we already heard that whaling used to be a significant activity, and that the whale played a major role in Harlingen’s history. We decided that our fountain would reference the relationship between animal and human. Once, the whale was a commodity and a symbol of the sublime forces of the sea. Nowadays, they are the sacrifice of humanity’s foolish desire to control all life forms.” The result is the lifelike sperm whale lying near the Zuiderpier in Willemshaven. The occasional water jet from its blowhole represents the life force within the animal.

Whaling and fishing

In the past, Harlingers earned their living through whaling. Hundreds of ships set sail to hunt the mighty animals, capturing and killing them with harpoons. In 1663, the Harlingers even had their own settlement in Spitsbergen to venture into the Norwegian Sea. After 1815, the golden age of whaling truly began. The main products were whale oil and whalebone. The oil was used as lamp oil, a component of paint and soap, and to keep leather supple. The whalebone, the ‘teeth’ of the whale, served as spokes for umbrellas and reinforcement in hoop skirts and corsets. In 1873, the last Dutch whaling expedition took place. Nowadays, ships under the flag of Historic Sailing Harlingen set sail as authentic charter sailing vessels, showing you the Wadden Sea.

Visit historic Harlingen

This charming, small city breathes the history of bygone times. Nowhere in the Netherlands will you find as many restored monuments per square meter, not even in Amsterdam. Wander through the old streets and marvel at beautiful warehouses, stunning facades, and unique inner harbours. Visit the replica of the Willem Barentsz’s expedition ship. In the accompanying visitor centre, you’ll learn everything about his perilous journey to Nova Zembla. It’s fitting to then visit the 18th-century merchant’s house, the Hannema House. Nowadays, it’s a museum and municipal archive in one, where exhibitions and displays are regularly showcased. The city centre has lovely terraces, and for those wanting to dine, it offers a culinary delight.