From then on, the town could draft and uphold its own laws and collect taxes which facilitated its development into a major trading and shipping town. In the 16th and 17th centuries the town knew great prosperity. Hoorn participated in the Noordse Compagnie, a cartel of investors in the whale trade. In summer, ships from Hoorn went on whale hunting expeditions in the Arctic, from Spitsbergen (Norway) to Novaya Zemblya (north of Russia). Furthermore, they sailed the “oostvaart”, eastern route, to pick up grain in Poland and the Baltic countries to ship it to Italy, for example. The latter route was known as “straatvaart”: through the Strait of Gibraltar to Italy or the Ottoman Empire. In Constantinople (Istanbul) they’d pick up precious cargo from the Silk Road such as oriental carpets, silk and expensive spices to trade them in Europe. On the return journey north they might also be carrying sea salt in bulk or parmesan cheese. The “noordvaart”, northern route, was for picking up immensely long logs in Scandinavia to be used as ship masts by the Dutch or shipped on to who ever wanted them. Moreover, Chambers of both the East India Company and West India Company could be found in Hoorn. Two local shipping captains, Jacob Le Maire and Willem Cornelisz Schouten, were the first to sail their ships around the southernmost tip of South Africa and they called it Cape Hoorn after their beloved home town.
Dutch merchants were a thrifty bunch. They generally did not splash on over-the-top grandiose houses. Instead they’d invest any profits in their next shipping expedition. This gives old Dutch towns a lovely balance. Only churches rose up above the houses…
St. Anthoniskerk, Church of Fishermen and Skippers, with lovely stained-glass windows, dates back to 1519 (the renovated Renaissance front exterior with an unusual clock is from 1616). Three Renaissance buildings on the road called Slaperhaven share scenes from a sea battle. Hoofdtoren defence tower (1532) is one of the few remaining parts of the town’s fortifications. It is surrounded by merchant’s houses from the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 17th century, the tower housed offices of the Noordse Compagnie also called Spitsbergen Compagnie.
Museums include the Westfries Museum of regional history; and the 20th Century Museum which is housed in an old cheese warehouse and exhibits nostalgic objects and interiors that tell a hundred different stories. Near the harbour a small toy museum can be found. Hoorn is the point of departure for a steam locomotive: a Tram Engine that huffs and puffs its way up the coast to Medemblik pulling old-fashioned carriages full of tourists.