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New working definition for castles and country estates in The Netherlands


November 15th 2019 the Dutch Castles Foundation presented a new working definition for castles and country estates at the “Kastelen en Buitenplaatsen Platform”. [A twice yearly discussion platform on all kinds of subjects concerning castles and country houses, hosted by the Cultural Heritage Agency (Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed)] . Definitions are not only important for researchers and protectors, but also for the perception of this heritage by the larger public.

The usefulness of definitions has been discussed for a long time in castle science. Some experience concept definition as to restraining, for others a solid definition is a necessity in order to make choices. Scientist used different interpretations of the commonly used definitions. Whereby making it difficult to compare studies.

Day to day practice also shows that unclear descriptions means that important parts of historic castle complexes have to do without protection from legislation. On many occasions this has led to undesirable damage to our heritage.

The Dutch Castles Foundation noted that many media present a very romantic and little historical picture of castles. This has as a result that with the general public the perception of the variety of appearances a castle can have is very limited. The image of castles in the media also means that the public only focus on the aspects connected to this image. Hence leaving very little room for other stories to be told.

During the lively discussion it became clear that science also lacks a shared understanding of what a castle or an country residence/ house is. Country estates were classified under castles for a very long time and only in recent decades have they been studied as independent but closely related concepts. All those present on the Platform agreed that both concepts are not limited to the built heritage, but that the connected grounds are an integral part of a castle and a country estate. This is important for historical research, legal protection and also to inform the public about the importance of this heritage.

These new definitions are currently discussed by the Dutch heritage field.

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Castle working definition, NKS 2019:

A castle is a complex of buildings dating from the Middle Ages or early modern times and their immediate surroundings with different morphological and functional characteristics.

It functions as a place of residence for the elite and it combines that function with (symbolic) defensibility and representativeness.

A castle can serve as a social, administrative and economic centre for the immediate environment and has specific morphological characteristics which derive from its various functions. These can include representative living and reception areas, towers, gates, ramparts and canal systems.

The complex often includes forecourts with or without agricultural functions, ornamental and vegetable gardens and other (status-enhancing) landscape elements.


Working definition country estate, NKS 2019 (extension of the definition from 1994)

A country estate is understood to mean any build place of stay, usually with a garden and park and surrounding buildings, that was established by the owner with the intention of staying in the countryside for a shorter or longer period of time.

The purpose of was to enable users to enjoy the tranquillity and the rural environment.

At the same time, it served as a status symbol and offered the possibility to manage any industrial, agricultural and forestry companies associated with the estate.