Netherlands return to old colonial base after 360 years

Netherlands return to old colonial base after 360 years

The Dutch are coming back to the Brazilian city of Fortaleza this weekend, 360 years after they abandoned it at the end of a daring but short-lived attempt to colonise the Atlantic coast of South America.

Thousands of Dutch soccer fans are expected in the city for their side's World Cup second round clash against Mexico on Sunday.

Two Dutch beachfront bars, “Satehut” and “O Holandes Voador” (The Flying Dutchman), are already doing brisk business.

Like many cities in northeast Brazil, Fortaleza has a Dutch heritage. Fortaleza means “fortress” in Portuguese and the city owes its name to Fort Schoonenburgh, built by the Dutch in 1649 during their 30-year occupation of this part of Brazil.

That occupation began in spectacular fashion in 1624 when a Dutch fleet seized the city of Salvador from the Spanish.

“It was hailed at the time as the greatest victory over Spain of the Dutch Golden Age,” said Michiel van Groesen, a lecturer in early modern history at Amsterdam University and editor of “The Legacy of Dutch Brazil”, a book about the period.

“That's why it was so symbolic that the Dutch played Spain in Salvador at this World Cup,” he said, referring to The Netherlands' 5-1 drubbing of the world champions two weeks ago.

“The result was effectively the same now as in 1624. We thrashed them on both occasions.”

The Dutch fleet lost Salvador a year later but moved north, establishing colonies in Recife, Natal, Fortaleza and Sao Luis da Maranhao, leaving their mark wherever they went.

“If you look at the houses in the old town of Recife many of them look like Amsterdam town houses,” Van Groesen told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Close to Recife stands Fort Orange, the best preserved of the old Dutch fortresses. In Fortaleza, the remains of Fort Schoonenburgh can still be seen under a later Portuguese construction.

The Dutch influenced the Portuguese language too. Former Brazil coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo is one of many Brazilians who owes his name to the country's Dutch heritage.

Vanderlei, Vanderley and Wanderley are all corruptions of Van der Ley, the surname of a well-known 17th century officer from the Dutch West India Company. This history is not lost on the Dutch fans in Fortaleza.

“We kicked the Portuguese out of here and we owned the place for a while,” said Ruud Maasland, a Dutchman who is married to a Brazilian and who knows Fortaleza well.

“That kind of gives you an extra good feeling when the Dutch team play here.” The Dutch were finally driven out of Brazil by the Portuguese in 1654.

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