Eindhoven is a major city in the province of North Brabant in the Netherlands. With a population of over 213,000 people, it’s the fifth largest city of the Netherlands. It is by no means a main tourist destination in the country and most travel guides will devote no more than a page or two to it. Nevertheless, this bustling and modern city has a lot more to offer.
Eindhoven’s history is dominated by industrial development and is inextricably linked to electronics giant Philips and, to a lesser degree, DAF Trucks. Although those industries have mostly disappeared, Eindhoven remains a European technology hub, hosting a technical university and many technically oriented companies and cooperation initiatives. In addition, over the past decade the city has become the capital of Dutch design.
Right until the beginning of the 20th century, Eindhoven was no more than a village. Less than a century later its number of inhabitants had boomed to over 200,000. The main reason for this tremendous increase in size was the the establishment of electronics multinational Philips, which was founded as a light bulb manufacturing company in 1891 and was headquartered in Eindhoven until 1997. As Philips grew, the city of Eindhoven grew with it to feed the company’s constantly growing need for workers. Philips’ strong presence in the city gained it the title of “Lichtstad” (City of Light) and is still prominent today, as many of its former buildings are considered valuable industrial heritage and have been renovated. Frits Philips (1905-2005), who lead the company for decades, was the city’s main beneficiary and was extremely popular among the people of Eindhoven. When walking the streets of Eindhoven today, you’ll find his and other names associated with Philips everywhere. Parks, theaters, sports facilities and many streets are named in their honor.
Although Eindhoven is an old city, with town and market rights already awarded in 1232, little of this long history is visible when exploring its center today. Large parts of the city were destroyed during air raids in World War II and post-war reconstruction was focused on ambitious, modernist plans with little respect for the historic heritage that was left. Nevertheless, there are 140 national heritage sites (Rijksmonumenten) in and directly around the city, including many 19th and early 20th century buildings and a handful of older ones.
Looks can be deceiving, when it comes to Eindhoven’s history. Modern as the city is today, it is in fact one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands. Henry I, Duke of Brabant, already chartered the then little village of “Endehoven” in 1232, as part of his extensive town planning process. Eventually the town established itself as a trade location en route from Holland to Liège. Its industrial activities initially centered around tobacco and textiles.
The city was destroyed and rebuilt several times in its written history. Despite late 14th century improvements to its fortifications, and the establishment of a castle within the city walls in the 15th century, Eindhoven was plundered and burned by the Guelders in 1486. No more than 6 houses remained. Rebuilding took almost 20 years and left the town in poverty, with the fortifications being neglected. This resulted in another plundering in 1543. That same year a fire ruined most of the city. During the Dutch Revolt the city repeatedly alternated ownership between the Dutch and Spanish, was burned down again, besieged for 3 months and finally captured by Spanish troops in 1583. When the French armies took over the already weakened city some years later, large parts of it were destroyed yet again. In 1629 Eindhoven finally became part of the Netherlands, but its tumultuous history left it a damaged and minor city.
This would change with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Due to the presence of Philips, DAF trucks and some other major industry, Eindhoven has developed as a major player in the global technical and industrial design scene. It is considered to be the epicenter of Dutch design with such institutions as the Design Academy and the Dutch Design Week that takes place every October.