Another day, another trip, this time to Utrecht and some lovely castles and gardens along the Vecht canals.
Evidence of Utrecht’s Stone Age and Bronze Age inhabitants has been found, but the bulk of archaeological excavation (and of the written record) has focused on the city’s Roman era. Probably founded as a fortified town, or castellum, circa 50 CE, the city was initially settled by about 500 Roman soldiers. Artisans, farmers and the soldiers’ families were settled here too, allowing the town to be another self-sufficient mark on the Roman line of fortresses that stretched along the Rhine and was known as the limes Germanicus. At this time the settlement was known as Traiectum, indicating that it was possible to cross the river here. This would later become Trecht in Dutch and, later still, Utrecht to distinguish it from Maastricht.
From the 3rd century, this area was routinely invaded by Germanic tribes and Utrecht was abandoned by 275, when it became clear that the Romans could not hold this northern border. The settlement sinks out of sight until about 650, when a church built here indicates the growing power of the Franks, under Dagobert I, in this region. It was also in this period that English and Irish missionaries arrived to Christianise the Frisians, and in 721 Charles Martel endowed Utrecht with a fortress and countryside for its bishop. This is an indication of its growing importance as a Frankish feud and the town swiftly became the base of Latin Christianity in the region and was a significant border town for the Carolingian empire.
Utrecht’s wealth as a trading depot on the Rhine allowed it to grow, but politically it remained under the rule of its wealthy and powerful prince-bishops. In 1528, however, secular power was transferred to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor – not without local resistance, however. A heavily fortified castle at Vredenburgh sent the city a clear message: the garrison was not there to guard the town, but rather to force its submission. In 1579, however, the seven northern provinces in the region signed the Union of Utrecht, a document that bound them to join against Spanish rule, and an early indication of the Dutch Republic. The new state, predominantly Calvinist, abolished the archbishopric of Utrecht in 1580 and much of the city’s trade was brought under the new republic’s rule.
During the Dutch Republic, Utrecht stood as Amsterdam’s alter ego – while Amsterdam (and Haarlem) were primarily protestant and pioneered the art we associate with the Dutch Golden Age, Utrecht had a larger Catholic population and its art was more influenced by the Italianate school of Antwerp and especially by the works of Caravaggio in Rome. The Utrecht Caravaggisti became known for works heavily indebted to Caravaggio or copies of Caravaggio’s that had been Dutchified by the use of a slightly muted palette, greater attention to the subtleties of ambient light.
Utrecht’s long decline was halted by the introduction of the railroad in the 19th century, when it was newly connected to Amsterdam and became an important hub of the Netherland’s rail network. In 1853 it even regained its Roman bishopric and became a centre of Dutch Catholicism once more. The Industrial Revolution brought great changes to the city, not least a rejuvenated population, but it also made it a focus of German attention during World War II. It was liberated by Canadian Forces in May 1945.
Paushuize is the second oldest historic building located in the city centre of Utrecht.
Pope Adrianus VI had the house built before he became a Pope, when he was attached to the court of Charles V in Spain. He hoped to return to Utrecht someday. In 1522, he was elected Pope and died one year later in Rome, so he never got to live in his house in Utrecht. Paushuize has a magnificent interior which proves it once functioned as a palace. In the 19th century, the building became the residence of the Royal Commissioner.
The Dom Tower is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands.
The highest viewpoint is at 95 m and from this platform you have a magnificent panoramic view of the city of Utrecht and its surroundings. After climbing the tower of the New Church in Delft, we took the guide’s word of the 456 steps to the top!
The gothic Dom Church was built as a cathedral for the bishop of Utrecht and dedicated to St. Maarten.
The interior with many lavishly decorated tombs is impressive. The Dom church draws many people daily for a guided tour or a moment of silence and peace. The free Saturday afternoon concerts have been a household word in Utrecht for over thirty years.
Since we visited on a Tuesday, Puffles put on his own concert…
The Dom church also has a lovely garden.
Next was a visit to Sypesteyn. A castle turned art gallery and museum, Sypesteyn was reconstructed in the early 1900s on the foundations of a late-medieval manor house destroyed about 1580. Today it holds some 80 paintings dating from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, representing the work of artists such as Paulus Moreelse, Nicolaes Maes, and Michiel van Mierevelt. Particularly the Loosdrecht porcelain has a good reputation. The esquire had the castle built not only to house his art treasures, but also to honour his forefathers. The garden and park have been laid out in the 17th century style.
The history of the castle is unusual. It was built at the start of the twentieth century from old building materials, such as Roman brick and antique doors, as a memorial to the Van Sypesteyn family, who is reported to have lived in an old castle situated on the exact same spot. The originator of this romantic ideal was the last male descendant in the line, Jonkheer C.H.C.A. van Sypesteyn who died in 1937 without leaving an heir.
The Muiderslot is a castle located at the mouth of the river Vecht, some 15 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam, in Muiden, where it flows into what used to be the Zuiderzee. It’s one of the better known castles in the Netherlands and has been featured in many television shows set in the Middle Ages.
The history of the Muiderslot (Castle Muiden, where muiden means rivermouth) begins with Count Floris V who built a stone castle at the mouth of the river back in 1280, when he gained command over an area that used to be part of the See of Utrecht. The River Vecht was the trade route to Utrecht, one of the most important trade towns of that age. The castle was used to enforce a toll on the traders. It is a relatively small castle, measuring 32 by 35 metres with brick walls well over 1.5 metres thick. A large moat surrounded the castle.
In 1296 Gerard van Velsen conspired together with Herman van Woerden, Gijsbrecht IV of Amstel, and several others to kidnap Floris V. The count was eventually imprisoned in the Muiderslot. After Floris V attempted to escape, Gerard personally killed the count on the 27th of June 1296 by stabbing him 20 times. The alleged cause of the conflict between the nobles was the rape of Gerard van Velsen’s wife by Floris. In 1297 the castle was conquered by Willem van Mechelen, the Archbishop of Utrecht, and by the year 1300 the castle had been razed to the ground.
A hundred years later (ca. 1370-1386) the castle was rebuilt on the same spot based on the same plan, by Albert I, Duke of Bavaria, who at that time was also the Count of Holland and Zeeland.
The next famous owner of the castle shows up in the 16th century, when P.C. Hooft (1581-1647), a famous author, poet and historian took over sheriff and bailiff duties for the area (Het Gooiland). For 39 years he spent his summers in the castle and invited friends, scholars, poets and painters such as Vondel, Huygens, Bredero and Maria Tesselschade Visscher, over for visits. This group became known as the Muiderkring. He also extended the garden and the plum orchard, while at the same time an outer earthworks defense system was put into place.
At the end of the 18th century, the castle was first used as a prison, then abandoned and became derelict. Further neglect caused it to be offered for sale in 1825, with the purpose of it being demolished. Only intervention by King William I prevented this. Another 70 years went by until enough money was gathered to restore the castle to its former glory.
The Muiderslot is currently a national museum (Rijksmuseum). The insides of the castle, its rooms and kitchens, have been restored to look like they did in the 17th century and several of the rooms now house a good collection of arms and armour.