August Storms

Summer Darkness 2012
We’ve had some heavy storms this past week that have been more impressive than the usual rain we’ve had much of this summer. August 1 saw a particularly strong series of thunderstorms, which if you know your Utrecht history, will suggest a pattern.

You see, on 1 August 1674, the nave of the cathedral in Utrecht was destroyed in a storm. While the storm we had this week wasn’t that dangerous, it was an interesting link through time. In the photo above, the market stalls from this weekend’s Summer Darkness festival were set up where the nave once stood. The ruins of the cathedral actually remained there on the Domplein until the 1800s!

The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) has an article (in Dutch) about the storm in 1674, as well as some interesting illustrations of how it all looked at the time.

(Yes, yes, I should have posted this on Wednesday, but I didn’t get a chance to after posting my other Summer Darkness photos, and more people were searching for those. If the remains of the cathedral could lie there for a couple hundred years, I think I can get away with posting a couple days late.)

Utrecht’s Stormy History

Under the Dom
On 1 August 1674, the nave of the cathedral in Utrecht was destroyed by a tornado. Strong winds whipped through and severely damaged the already weak structure. Much of the damage may have been because the nave was built from weaker materials to save costs, but a substantial tornado did hit the city. Along with the cathedral’s nave, the towers of five churches were damaged or destroyed, and all but two of the windmills along the city walls were destroyed. [BUISMAN, J. (2000): Duizend jaar weer, wind en water in de Lage Landen. Van Wijnen, p.767.]

The nave originally connected the cathedral to the Domtoren (the bell tower). You can see the original layout and what it looks like now in these axonometrics:

The nave was never rebuilt, although there are markers in the ground showing where the columns and outlines of the nave once stood. Instead, the area now serves as the home for the memorial statue that recognizes those who gave their lives during wartime in service to the Netherlands. There is also a large painting giving a sort of tromp l’oeil look into the part of the cathedral still standing.

I suspect it could be argued that the open space left from not rebuilding the nave has ultimately been more useful over the centuries than the nave itself might have been if it had been rebuilt. As it stands now, this space between the cathedral and domtoren is used on a regular basis, probably at least monthly, for one event or another. This past weekend it served as the market place and staging area for fashion shows during the Summer Darkness festival. It has been a staging area for many a Cultural Sunday event, and the site of the DJ op de Dom event in which DJs and VJs and light artists get together to put on one hell of a dance party for around 10,000 people.

Vrede van Utrecht presents DJ op de Dom 2010 // HD1280x720 from Vrede van Utrecht on Vimeo.

Fortunately, the Domtoren remained standing after the storm, and it remains a symbol of the city to this day. The bells chime out hourly and during the summer, weekly carillon concerts are held every Monday evening at 20:00. The concerts are running through August, and if you choose to go, the Pandhof (cloistered garden) area is thought to be one of the best spots to enjoy the performance. There’s usually some sort of refreshment on hand, as well. I’m thinking of going this evening. It seems like a perfect day to take in the performance on such an historic date. Fortunately, we’ve finally got sunshine today, so little chance of any more tornadoes to wreak havoc.