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ZUTPHEN, 11km south of Deventer, is everything you might hope for in a Dutch country town: there's no crass development, and the centre musters up dozens of old buildings set amid a medieval street plan that revolves around three long and very appealing piazzas – Groenmarkt, Houtmarkt and Zaadmarkt. Much of the centre is pedestrianized and, without a supermarket in sight, the town's old-fashioned shops still flourish, as do its cafés and, in a quiet sort of way, its bars. Zutphen was founded in the eleventh century as a fortified settlement at the confluence of the Berkel and IJssel rivers.
From the train station, it's a couple of minutes' walk south along Stationsstraat to the narrow passageway that leads through the old city wall to reach the town centre. Here, at the junction of Groenmarkt and Houtmarkt, is the Wijnhuis, a conspicuous if somewhat disjointed clock tower, whose assorted pillars and platforms date from the seventeenth century. Keep straight ahead from here, along Lange Hofstraat, and you soon reach St Walburgiskerk (June Tues– Sat 1.30–4.30pm; July to early Sept Mon 1.30–4.30pm, Tues– Sat 10.30am–4.30pm; 1.20, 3 with library), an immense, Gothic church whose massive, square tower rises high above the town. Inside, the most impressive features are an extravagant brass baptismal font and a remarkable medieval library, sited in the sixteenth-century chapterhouse. The library boasts a beautiful low-vaulted ceiling that twists around in a confusion of sharp-edged arches above the original wooden reading desks. It has all the feel of a medieval monastery, but it was in fact one of the first Dutch libraries to be built for the general public, a conscious effort by the Protestant authorities to dispel ignorance and superstition. The library owns over 700 items, ranging from early illuminated manuscripts to sixteenth-century books, a selection of which are still chained to the lecterns on which they were once read.
Across from St Walburgiskerk is the Stadhuis, an elegant Neoclassical building whose main facade is decorated with military carvings in the style of ancient Rome. Proceeding south from here, you cross the old town moat to reach Martinetsingel, which curves east offering exquisite views over the town centre on its way to the Drogenapstoren, one of the old city gates – and a fine example of a brick rampart tower – that takes its name from the time when the town trumpeter, one Thomas Drogenap, lived here.
The Drogenapstoren is a few metres from Zaadmarkt, a wide and especially handsome street that leads back towards the Wijnhuis. Zaadmarkt is also home to the Museum Henriette Polak, at no.88 (Tues– Sun 11am–5pm; 4.50), which features temporary displays of modern, usually Dutch art. The house itself looks nineteenth century, but in fact it is much older as evidenced by the tiny chapel on the top floor. When the Protestants took control of the Netherlands in the sixteenth century, Catholics were allowed to hold services in any private building providing that the exterior revealed no sign of their activities – hence the development of clandestine churches (schuilkerken) all over the country, of which this is one of the few to have survived.