Franeker, or Frjentsjer in the Frisian language, has long been an important centre for the area known as Westergo, between Harlingen and Leeuwarden. In the 16th to the 18th Century it was the cultural centre of Friesland, as is still visible in its many historical buildings. There is a ring of canals, completely surrounding the city, that was completed when the 16th Century gave way to the 17th. It is now a city of around 13,000 inhabitants.
About the year 800 Franeker was a settlement near een Carolingian castellum. The name is derived from "Froon-acker", (meaning "land of the Lord or King"); the oldest street of the city still has the name Froonacker. From the 11th to the 16th century it developed as an administrative centre of northern Westergo and in the 15th century is where the Duke Albrecht of Saxony lived. Franeker seemed to develop as Friesland's capital, but was eclipsed by Leeuwarden. It is believed that in the Middle Ages the Franeker people tried to steal a church bell from Harlingen; since then their nickname has been "klokkedieven" (clock thieves).
One of the most important buildings is the Stadhuis, the City Hall, built in the renaissance style between 1591 and 1594. It still occupies a central place, situated along one of the canals in the centre of the city. Nearby is the interesting Planetarium, built in his own house in the late 18th Century by the wool comber Eise Eisinga and is the oldest working planetarium in the world. There are reminders of the time Franeker was a University city from 1585 until 1811, the second oldest university of the Netherlands. There are the aristocratic Professors' houses and the Students' Club House, "De Bogt fen Guné", still in use as a pub.
Franeker is the centre of the Frisian National Sport, "kaatsen" (Frisian handball) and there are competitions during Whitsun and in the summer months on the "Tsjûkelân", the green next to the old Students' Pub. The "Agrarische dagen" (Agrarian days), an exhibition of farming equipment and events, a celebration of rural life and just plain fun, also takes place in summer.