Castellum Lights

A Flamingo in Utrecht
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.
Hadrian's Wall
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.
Roman Walls [Day 126/365]
There’s another by the Academiegebouw, which I managed to capture once, years ago.
Roman Fortress
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.
Castellum Trajectum

Variations on a Theme: Trajectum Lumen

ganzenmarkt tunnel
ganzenmarkt tunnel
ganzenmarkt tunnel
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.

Utrecht, The Hidden Gem

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.

Still, I do miss the old paintwork on the façade. The square just isn’t the same without that backbone!
Sitters or Squatters?

Time Travel: Kromme Nieuwegracht 1900 | 2013

kromme nieuwegracht HUA 1900(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

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.
kromme nieuwegracht paushuisAlthough 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.

Tank Man

During the summer of 2013, the Call of the Mall art event took place in the Hoog Catharijne shopping center here in Utrecht. A variety of art works in multiple mediums were placed throughout the mall. The Celestial Tea Pot, which still stands on the roof of part of the mall, was and is a popular piece, but there was one piece that really created a lot of interest, at times blocking much of the walkway in which it was placed.

Tank Man, a lifelike sculpture by Fernando Sánchez Castillo, refers to the unknown man who stood down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989 after the Chinese military had come in to shut down protests. Although a few names were bandied about at the time, it seems that there is no reliable information about the man’s identity and fate.
Tank ManAlthough we don’t know what became of the man dubbed Tank Man, we do know what happened to the statue. It was purchased by the Centraal Museum, where it now has a home. I never got to see it while it was on display in the mall, but I did finally get to see it on my most recent visit to the museum. It’s a powerful piece when you stop and think about what this man did, especially at that particularly violent and repressive moment in time.

The video footage and photos that made it out of China are hard to forget. The close-up photos like the one by photographer Jeff Widener are staggering, but it was one I saw a few days ago that really made me think more deeply about it all than I have in many years. The wider angle shows the scope of what this man was up against. To see the tiny figure of the the man standing against at least 20 tanks just on the road, not to mention the numerous other grouped tanks in the background is incredibly moving and thought-provoking. It’s hard not to put yourself in his shoes and wonder if you would have been able to take such a stand. I think being able to come face to “face” with the Tank Man via the statue is what helps to make it such a powerful piece, because you do suddenly find yourself face to face with your thoughts about what you’d be willing to stand up for and against.
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Time Travel: Pieterskerkhof and the Domtoren

domtoren seen from pieterskerkhof 1925 HUA creditThe browser tab cleanup continues …
This image (photo via Het Utrechts Archief) of Pieterskerkhof, with the Domtoren in the background, is from 1925. This is a stretch that really hasn’t changed much at all. That’s Pieterskerk (St. Peter’s Church), the brick building on the far left and the only thing that has changed slightly is the entrance, which seems to have grown a story and added a window. (It’s the bit right next to the white/grey building.)

The lamps have changed, there are a lot more bicycles, and a few trees have changed places, but otherwise, it’s instantly recognizable. Trust me, even the buildings in the background are the same.

I used to joke in the US about how certain streets were what I called “church row”, with seemingly a church on every street corner. This takes the cake, though. As I said, that’s a church there on the left and then not much further on, you can see the top of the cathedral and the Domtoren. I’m lousy at distances, but according to Google maps, it’s a walking distance of 230 meters/250 yards. They say it’s a three minute walk, but that seems awfully slow to me. Of course, if you stop to admire the local cats and the beautiful buildings, it will take a lot longer than three minutes.

Always the DomPieterskerkhof is definitely worth a visit if you’re visiting Utrecht or newly arrived. It’s a surprising cul de sac with a fascinating mix of old and new buildings and some great rooftop views. And when the sun filters through the trees, the charm level goes through the roof.
Summer Light

The Dom’s Architect

Jan van den DoemI’m a tab hoarder in my browser and regularly have more tabs open than is really necessary, but often they’re made up of things that I want to write about. However, sometimes I feel like they require more research than I have time or energy for, so they sit there for month after month. This is one of those topics that I’m finally just going to post what I know and if anyone else has better or additional information, they’re more than welcome to share.

This post started because of this photo that I took of one of the statues in the Pandhof of the Dom cathedral. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked around it, looked at it, and in this case, photographed it, but then never gave it much more thought. I guess I was distracted by all of the gargoyles. But then, a few months ago, I finally wondered if it was a statue of a saint or someone else. Curious, I started Googling.

What I learned is that it’s a relatively modern sculpture of the first architect of the current cathedral and/or the Domtoren. There’s some confusion over the names, but it seems that he was known as Jan van Henegouwen, but sometimes misnamed as Jan van den Doem, who was a later architect. Not surprisingly, for a structure so large, the building process went on for a number of years and there were multiple head architects throughout the project. Some information lists Jan van Henegouwen as the first architect of the Domtoren, whereas Jan van den Doem is listed as the first architect of the cathedral and Pandhof. I do have a book that probably explains it all, but I’m short on time, so I’ll try to do some more research and update if I learn anything more.

For now, a few details on this specific sculpture, though. It does seem to be meant to be Jan van den Doem, the architect of the cathedral and Pandhof. The sculpture was installed in 1989 (practically yesterday!) by sculptor Paul Grégoire (Amsterdam 1915 – Amsterdam 1988), presumably after his death. His son is also a sculptor, so perhaps he finished it/attended its installation. It turns out that there’s another sculpture by Paul Grégoire on Mariaplaats that I quite like. The sculpture of Jan van den Doem includes a beaver down by his feet and a plumb rule in his hand, symbols of an architect.

It was a nice, “Ah! Of course!” moment when I finally found out the subject of the sculpture. Nice to think that the architect gets a bit of a nod after all these centuries!

Zeven Steegjes From a Different Perspective

zeven steegjes
I wrote about the Zeven Steegjes (Seven Alleys) two years ago. For a moment, I thought I’d written about them two years ago to the day, but then realized I was a month off. Still, close enough.

Last month, while on the Free Utrecht tour held every Saturday starting at the Domplein at noon, (you should go!), I ended up getting to the Zeven Steegjes from a different direction than I’d seem them originally. It was a nice surprise when I realized where we were. On my previous trip, I’d been more interested in seeing the clear rows of buildings and hadn’t really wandered down the actual streets. This time, I was captivated by the variety of decorations in the neighborhood, both on individual homes and the details within the building designs. I love a good keystone!
zeven steegjes
zeven steegjes
But seeing the rows of domestic streets from the back also gave me a different view of the rest of the neighborhood, including this fantastic view toward one of the church spires.
zeven steegjesA bright, sunny, winter day also helps. Plus, the buildings also made me think a bit of Italy, with the orange roof tiles and warm colors that some of the buildings were painted.
zeven steegjesAs if all of that wasn’t so charming you could just die, there was an adorable dog who seemed quite determined to tell us all off for invading his neighborhood. That, or he just wanted a bit of attention and someone to play with him. I would have gladly complied!
zeven steegjes

Modern Rotterdam Centraal

Rotterdam Centraal
While my friends were visiting, we did end up taking a couple of day trips to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Our visit to Rotterdam was for one specific point of interest, which I’ll post about eventually, once I can whittle down the photos. Oh so many photos!

Rotterdam is a very modern city, due in large part to the fact that much of the city was destroyed by bombs in World War II. As a result, instead of an old city center full of traditional Dutch brick buildings that have been around for a few hundred years, you end up with gleaming glass skyscrapers and a variety of large contemporary buildings. We have more modern buildings just outside the Utrecht city center, but I only see them rarely, so it was a bit of a culture shock in a way. But in a nice way!

Today, I’m just going to share a few photos of the Rotterdam Centraal Station, which was recently renovated. It’s a stunning structure, with sweeping lines and metallic materials that shimmer and shine, especially in the crisp winter afternoon sunlight. The Utrecht train station is undergoing its own renovation right now and I hope ours turns out even half as impressive.
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal

Utrecht Cathedral, Inside and Out

ArchesIt’s been a fun and busy week, with friends visiting, giving me a chance to explore the city anew, as well as visit a few new places here and in other cities. Lots to post about, lots of photos to share, but right now, not a lot of time. So I’ll start with a simple one.

My friends were staying at an airbnb over by Mariaplaats (very cute!), so we often met up at the Domplein as a starting point. One day, while waiting, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the remembrance statue and the trompe l’oeil depiction of the interior of the cathedral framed by the Domtoren walkway. All the empty space in between used to be the nave of the cathedral, but that was destroyed in a “tempest” back in the 1600s. The large image on the wall serves as a sort of window into the interior of the cathedral, looking toward the apse.
Outside Looking InIn the illustration, you can see some of the central ring of columns, the stained glass at the eastern end of the church, and even some of the chandeliers. And this is how it actually looks inside.
Apse
There’s a little less stained glass throughout, but otherwise it’s the same. Either way, it’s a beautiful interior, even without all of the statues and decorations that were stripped out during the Reformation. I cut my art history teeth on Gothic architecture, so I do have a fondness for this cathedral, inside and out.