Lord of his manor: Dutchman builds huge Roman castle in his garden - GulfToday

Lord of his manor: Dutchman builds huge Roman castle in his garden

Dutchman 3

Gerry Halman's castle. Agence France-Presse

Meet Lord Gregorious, a 76-year-old Dutchman who has single-handedly built a five-storey Roman-style castle in his back garden, complete with knights, damsels, and a shimmering dragon fashioned from recycled metal. The towers of the Olt Stoutenburght castle (“Old Naughty Citadel”) rise unexpectedly from the flat fields around the tiny village of Blesdijke in the northern Dutch countryside. The pensioner, real name Gerry Halman, has spent 34 years on his labour of love, painstakingly sourcing materials from dozens of countries, drawing inspiration from China, the Roman Empire, and ancient Egypt. “One morning in 1990, I said to my wife, ‘I’m ready. I have a complete picture. I know what the building looks like, from the bottom to the flag’,” the moustachioed Halman said, resplendent in a jaunty fur hat. Since then, constructing and furnishing the castle has been his “passion”, travelling all over the world to source materials that do justice to his vision.

Above the vaunted main hall hangs a metal chandelier from Istanbul and ornate Jugendstil iron railings from Libya. The room is equipped with a wooden bar taken from the Orient Express dining wagon, embossed with signs entreating gentlemen not to urinate on the floor. Hundreds of books about art and history adorn the walls of the library, with a duelling pistol and Indonesian ritual suicide dagger strewn casually across the desk. For 35 years, Halman ran a costume shop in nearby Zwolle and has populated his castle with a cast of characters including knights in shining armour, damsels in distress, and a statue of the Aphrodite.

Dutchman 4 Lord Gregorious single-handedly built a five-storey Roman-style castle in his back garden. AFP

On top of the 26-metre-high (85-foot) building coils a dragon made from hundreds of pieces of recycled metal — a nod to the Chinese tradition of protecting the home. Next to the dragon lies a cobra, also made of glittering metal and a symbol of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt.  What drives someone with no architectural or building experience to start such a project?  “What drives people to cycle for three weeks through France or go to the gym?” a good-natured Halman replied to this question, describing the urge to create the castle as an “obligation”.

“I’ve always been a fan of the fantasy world since I was a kid, not the real world.” But he ran up against the real world when he took his plans to the local authorities for planning permission.

Dutchman 2  Gerry Halman, aka Lord Gregarious, stands in his ‘Olt Stoutenburght’ Castle (Old Naughty Citadel). Photos: AFP

“The mayor said: ‘He’s crazy. He is not a builder. He has no architecture experience and he wants to build a castle’.” However, he eventually won planning permission after much back-and-forth with the authorities, so long as the castle was lower than 28 metres. Most of the materials are recycled or sourced from Halman’s trips around Europe’s antique markets. It’s all self-financed but he has no idea what the total bill is — “Don’t ever ask how much it costs, otherwise you would never dare do it.” Like the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona, the Olt Stoutenburght is “never finished”, he said. “I have a motto. You can always improve on beauty.” His three children will carry on his life’s work when he dies. His granddaughter, 16-year-old Sara van den Kamp, recalled frolicking in the castle grounds as a little girl and family Christmas feasts in the grand hall.

“It’s pretty cool. Not many people can say their grandfather owns a place like this and has built a place like this. “It’s very unique,” she said. Halman’s wife of 50 years “likes” the project but “stays away,” he said. “I do my own thing... this is for me. We have the perfect marriage.” Tourists come from all over to admire the castle. Monique Meijer, a 55-year-old nurse, gasped when she entered the hall. “It’s just fantastic,” she gushed. “I find it bizarre how he did this on his own. Very beautiful inside. Lots of arches and beautiful brickwork. Lots of imagination,” she said. Halman says that many people walk away from a visit thinking he’s crazy, but he cites a line from Spanish artist Salvador Dali, another inspiration. “The only difference between me and a madman is that I’m not mad.”

Dutchman 1 The garden of Gerry Halman’s ‘Olt Stoutenburght’ Castle (Old Naughty Citadel).

Meanwhile, Johnstown native Russell Shorto hopes an exhibition that he recently curated about New York City’s early history leaves people with “a complicated sense of history in a good way,” he said. The “New York Before New York: The Castello Plan of New Amsterdam” exhibition, on display through July 14 at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, provides a look at what life was like in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam that was founded 400 years ago, in 1624.

The colony only lasted until 1664, when the British took over and renamed the land “ New York.” But the impact made by those settlers at that place and at that time still resonates in the city and throughout the United States today, said Shorto, a Cumberland, Maryland, resident who received the Order of Orange- Nassau, the Netherlands’ equivalent of a knighthood. The installation uses letters, documents, artwork and daily items, including jewellery and coins, to provide a glimpse into the colony. It is centered on the Castello Plan, a painted map from around 1660 that depicted the settlement of 1,500 inhabitants with a windmill, gardens, docks and canals.

“Having the historic Castello Plan visit modern-day New York City from its home in Florence, Italy, gives New Yorkers the opportunity to experience the rich history of their hometown through the lens of those people who 400 years ago began this magnificent experiment in multi-cultural, big-city living, including the Indigenous, the African American, the Dutch and others, all of whom made up the vibrant and diverse tapestry that was New Amsterdam, and remains to this day as New York City,” said Ahmed Dadou, consul general of the Netherlands in New York, in a written released statement.


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