Time Travel: Achter de Dom

1900 postal workers achter de dom utrecht post office(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

This photo dates back to 1900 and shows a group of postal workers on the street behind the cathedral called Achter de Dom (achter means behind and de Dom refers to the cathedral). To the right of them is the entrance to the pandhof, the enclosed garden area next to cathedral. To the left was the post office.

Achter de Dom is one of my favorite streets, because it’s filled with historic buildings and just looks so picturesque and charming. Coming to the street from the opposite direction — from the Nieuwegracht — it’s particularly stunning as you see the apse of the cathedral towering over the street. No matter the angle from which you look at it, it’s a winner.
Achter de DomI couldn’t remember the exact angle of the original photo, so when I made this version on Sunday, I didn’t get it quite right, but close enough. Not much has changed, obviously. The men in the photo would have been standing roughly where the woman in the white top on the right is.
Achter de Dom
This is the same photo, but from a wider angle, so you can see the cathedral and its buttresses around the apse on the right. The large greyish building on the center left of the photo is the former post office. It was still in use for another 24 years after the 1900 photo was taken. Then, it was replaced by the massive and stunning building at Neude. Sadly, the post office at Neude closed in 2011 and its final use remains in limbo. In fact, it was the very last post office in the Netherlands. Everything now is privatized. Strange to think that the mail service has changed more than this street in the past 115 years, though mail delivery by bike is still a thing. Of course.

The Sound of Utrecht’s Domtoren

Today is Hemelvaart (Ascension Day) and a holiday here in the Netherlands. One of traditions (although I’m not sure how widespread/popular) is to head out early in the morning for a walk or bike ride. I woke up relatively early this morning and decided to follow the tradition and go for a walk around town. The weather was gorgeous and the city was peaceful and fairly empty, except for joggers and dog walkers, so it was a perfect time to wander. I’ve got a ton of photos, which I’m sure I’ll be posting, especially on days when words fail me.

Words kind of failed me this morning, from the sheer beauty of the city I live in. I had been walking along the Nieuwegracht, heading to the Domplein, when the bells of the Domtoren began to ring. I LOVE the sound and in that setting along the tree-lined canal, it was a perfect moment. As I left the Nieuwegracht and began to walk down Achter de Dom, the small street behind the cathedral, it all just got even better. With the cathedral rising up at the end of the street, the crenelated castle-like roof of one of the buildings on the left, the picturesque row of black Pyke Koch lamps, the blue sky, and the wonderful sound of the bells echoing and reverberating in the street, I really was in awe of getting to experience moments like this on a surprisingly regular basis. Life is good!
Achter De Dom

Since no one else was around, I filmed a bit of the experience to share, to give you a hint of what it’s like. Sadly, my camera can’t begin to capture the full experience. Still, I hope you get a sense of it all.


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.)

A Square That Should Not Be

The other week, as part of the city’s anniversary celebrations, the Domtoren was playing a variety of songs, including popular local songs. One of my favourites, and the one that you can hear in this video I filmed, is called Utereg Me Stadje, which is a local dialect way of saying Utrecht, My City. It was written and performed in the 1970s by Herman Berkien, an Utrecht folk and cabaret singer. If you want to hear his version, there are a number of options on YouTube, including this one.

As for the video itself, it was filmed in the Domplein, and I’m standing where the nave of the cathedral used to be. You see, Utrecht has a grand, Gothic cathedral … it’s just missing half of it. The nave was destroyed in a heavy storm in 1674. There wasn’t the money to rebuild it, nor it seems, was there money to clean up the mess, since it wasn’t officially cleaned up until 1829. No, that’s not a typo. I thought I procrastinated!

The large statue in the video and in the photo above is a war memorial and it stands up against the outer wall of what is left of the cathedral. Essentially, all that is left is the transept (the arms part of the cross) and the apse (the part with the altar, etc.). In the photo, you can see that they’ve painted the wall with a trompe l’oeil effect to make it look as if you’re looking toward the apse, giving you the view you’d have if the nave still stood.

Parts of the cathedral ruins were used for other buildings, I’m sure, as they always are. What is interesting about the site now is that they’ve marked out, using different coloured bricks, where parts of the cathedral and other buildings used to stand.  In the following photo, you can see the octagonal shape where one of the columns inside the nave used to stand. Next to it is a floor memorial or some sort of similar marker that echoes the numerous ones inside the cathedral.

Ghost Columns

On one hand, it’s sad that the full Gothic structure doesn’t remain. On the other hand, we’ve got a wonderful square that is used for all sorts of events, as you can perhaps tell from the banging sounds of construction in the background of my video. They were setting up two different stages that day in preparation for the Stadsdag events and the following day’s Cultural Sunday dance events. It’s a wonderful meeting place, and in the end, I’m kind of glad they didn’t rebuild it. The tower may be lonely, as a new song says, and it might be the square that wasn’t meant to be, but it has become a beautiful blend of man and nature, as the trees stand as their own columns now.

Occupy Utrecht