The Domplein — the square in the heart of the city where you will find the Domtoren and the cathedral — has a long history. The square was originally the site of the Castellum Trajectum, the Roman fortress established nearly 2000 years ago to protect the northern border of the Roman Empire. The sign in the picture above marks where one of the entrance gates to the fortress was to be found.
In fact, they have found the foundations for the old fortress and you can see some visual depictions of what the fortress would have looked like through various apps now available. I think you also get to learn and see a bit more on the DomUnder tour (which I haven’t had a chance to take yet).
Still, you can get a sense of the size of the fortress due to some installations you’ll see in areas around the Domplein. The size starts to sink in when you realize it encompased the whole square and then some. The markers in the ground are bronze-ish metal pieces flush to the ground, with lines drawn in depicting various Roman Empire borders. They’re easy to miss, and even easier to puzzle over if you don’t know the meaning. It took me a few years to finally figure it out.
However, in the evening, they at least become a bit harder to miss. As part of the Trajectum Lumen displays, they light up and emit a watery mist every 15 minutes or so. The marker on Domstraat is pretty impressive, the way it lights up along one of the buildings and has the cathedral behind it.
There’s another by the Academiegebouw, which I managed to capture once, years ago.
More recently, I finally caught the one on Servetstraat, in front of the Domtoren. It’s a cosy little street with a nice mix of shops and restaurants, all in the towering shadow of the Domtoren. Standing along any of the old fortress borders, it’s impossible not to look around and think of all the history this one small section of Utrecht has seen and experienced. And now we all become a little part of that long history.
I’ve written before about the Trajectum Lumen light art installations to be found throughout the city. From simple to grandiose, they put the spotlight on Utrecht’s rich history. One of my favorites is the Ganzenmarkt tunnel. The lights are constantly changing colors, creating a psychedelic fairytale landscape that makes me think of Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Plus, the tunnel leads down to the Oudegracht, where you get a great view of the Stadhuis, plus some more lights under the Stadhuise bridge. During a past visit, this was one of the color sequences, though the shifts from one color to the next are more gradual.
If you’re visiting Utrecht or thinking about visiting Utrecht and are looking for things to do, a walk through the city, enjoying the lights, should definitely be on your list. The lights begin at dusk and go until midnight, 365 days of the year, so you can check them out whenever you like. It’s a nice way to cap off an evening.
It seems that with the upcoming start of the Tour de France in July and Nijntje/Miffy celebrating her 60th birthday this year, Utrecht is starting to get a bit more international attention. The latest article to make the rounds is from the Washington Post, which calls Utrecht a hidden gem in Amsterdam’s shadow. Of course, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll think this is old news. You’re all cutting edge, avant garde, and in the know. Well done!
Anyway, it’s a nice article that covers some interesting spots and businesses that make Utrecht so vibrant and interesting. The article only scratches the surface. Speaking of businesses, our Vino Veritas is starting to really pick up some steam. A big thanks to everyone who has been coming in recent weeks. And if you’re going to be visiting in July for the Tour de France, don’t forget that we’re located on Biltstraat, where part of the race will take place. Feel free to stop in for some wine and food and say hi!
But back to the article … I’m glad the author included the great story about Utca’s Finest. They do have some very cool stuff, along with some great chutzpah! The other part that stood out to me is such a small thing, but it’s often something small that can be the most entertaining. At the end of the article, there’s a list of places to stay, eat, visit, etc., and it includes the new Mother Goose Hotel. (If you can get a room with a view out of the front of the building, you’ll have a spectacular view of the Domtoren and the city hall.) The part that entertained me, in a local-knowledge kind of way, was the description of the building as a former mattress factory. This is absolutely accurate, but doesn’t begin to cover why this building is so interesting. It hasn’t been a mattress factory for more than 20 years. It’s the building’s history with squatters since then that is much more fascinating.
I wrote about the building and its history back in 2013 as the squatters were being forced out. It’s worth revisiting. There were concerns at the time that the building’s owner wouldn’t actually follow through with the developers who were looking to turn the building into a hotel. I guess the owner faced enough pressure that he had no choice, as Mother Goose opened last year.
This canal is the Kromme Nieuwegracht and as the name suggests, it’s essentially the Nieuwegracht canal after it takes a curve in front of the Paushuis (Pope’s House), which is part of the building on the left. In fact, this picture from 1900 is taken from the bridge over the canal that leads into the Paushuis.
While you may think that the Pope’s House wouldn’t change much, it actually has changed quite a bit since it was originally built in the 1500s. The actual house was much smaller than the full property that is there today. Plus, through the years, it has had a variety of additions and rebuilds of those additions. It’s more of a complex now than just one building. As you can see, there were rows of window shutters in the old photo, but when you look at the new photo (well, taken in 2013), those are all gone.
Although the buildings on the left may have changed, the buildings on the right look remarkably similar, other than perhaps some cleaning and some new shiny gold paint on that balcony. Even the stairs down to the canal are in roughly the same spot. The biggest difference is the addition of three trees in the intervening 100+ years. Well, that and the bicycles and cars replacing the people.
While I was out last week and caught the reflection of the lamp in a puddle, what had originally caught my eye was a fragment of a wall painting. One of the things I love is the fact that you’ll find a variety of fun and fascinating wall murals throughout the city on random walls. Sadly, this example of Utrecht muur kunst (wall art) on the Hekelsteeg, was only a few small, tantalizing fragments. I don’t know why more of the mural isn’t left, but the small fragments that are there are certainly curious and colorful. Sadly, I’m short on time, but I’ll keep looking to see if I can find a photo of what the full mural looked like once upon a time. If I do, I’ll share it. [Never mind. Found some photos!] In the meantime, here are the odd bits left that really get the imagination going. I particularly like the tiny bit on the far left that has been framed. That just adds to the oddity of it all.