Grote Kerk – Haarlem, Netherlands - Atlas Obscura

Haarlem, Netherlands

Grote Kerk

This towering church is home to a world-famous organ and a treasure trove of medieval art. 

This surprising Gothic church in Haarlem was built between 1245 and 1520 and is rich with architecture and art spanning from medieval times until today. The towering Grote of St.-Bavokerk is also known simply as Grote Kerk, meaning “Big Church,” and its striking 246-foot spire still rises higher than any other building in the city. 

The church is best known as the home of the famed Müller organ, a giant gilded instrument designed by the renowned Amsterdam organ builder Christian Müller. When it was built in 1738 it was the largest organ in the world and famous throughout Europe. Legendary composers such as George Frideric Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (at just age 10) traveled to Haarlem to play the elaborate instrument, which is adorned with 25 lifesize sculptures.

Often overshadowed by the Müller organ but no less interesting is the treasure trove of old (and often disturbing) artwork housed within the church. The works tell stories of the fascinating history of the structure, which played a role in medieval politics and witnessed the rise of Haarlem’s guilds and the usurpation of the beer industry. This history is also preserved by the many tombstones in the church, which mark the graves of some of the most prominent figures in Haarlem’s past, from famous Dutch artists to medieval knights.

Know Before You Go

The church is located in the Grote Markt in the center of the city. It's open to the public, including regular tours inside the building and into the belltower.

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