Utrecht’s Old City Gates

Like any big city that was around in the middle ages, Utrecht took its safety seriously and build walls around the city center. The city had the added benefit of an encircling canal, acting a bit like a moat. There were only four entrances into the city and one of those was on the eastern side. The Wittevrouwenpoort (gate) stood where the Wittevrouwenbrug (bridge) now stands. Wittevrouwen (white ladies) refers to the cloister that stood nearby until 1710.

Last year, I’d heard they were installing a memorial plaque, but then never saw it appear anywhere. Early this month, while walking back from Biltstraat, I noticed the plaque on one of the bridge railing posts. I think it must be relatively new, or I’ve been incredibly blind for months. Either is possible. Anyway, the artwork is taken from this drawing of the gate done in 1646:
Wittevrouwenpoort te Utrecht door Herman Saftleven in 1646

The gate stood there, in one form or another, until 1858, when it was demolished. It was still there in 1813 when the Cossacks arrived into the city.
Wittevrouwenpoort te Utrecht in 1813 door Pieter Gerardus van Os

And here’s a view from the same direction today:
View from Biltstraat
Not quite as impressive, I’m afraid. The building on the right with the clock tower was built when the gate was demolished, in essentially the same spot at the gate stood. It served as a police station until 1980 and is now a lawyers’ office.

Utrecht’s Gay Rights Memorial

I was born and raised in Florida, but moved to North Carolina (NC) when I was 16. I’ve lived there off and since then, so it’s a state I have some affection for, as well as some feelings of frustration. The recent vote in North Carolina to amend the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage and essentially remove many rights of anyone not in a traditional marriage left me particularly frustrated. The US is legally a secular country, so religious beliefs shouldn’t influence political decisions. I may be an atheist myself, but I have a number of friends in NC, of varying faiths, who fought hard against this vote. It’s a nice reminder that many people of faith practice the loving side of their religion, rather than trying to limit the freedoms of others.


About a month ago, I came across a story on one of the Utrecht news site about a gay memorial that stands in the Domplein (Cathedral Square) here in the city. Finally, yesterday, I went to go see it for myself. The memorial is for the 18 Utrechters who were imprisoned and killed for being gay in the 1730s.

The nave of the cathedral was destroyed in a storm in 1674, and the ruins became a meeting place for those known as sodomieten. In 1730-31, after complaints from the sacristan of the cathedral, the government stepped in and began arresting people and interrogating them. Other meeting places were discovered and a wave of arrests followed. Some people in important positions were tipped off in advance and escaped, but in the end, 18 people were sentenced to death and strangled.

The memorial to this atrocity stands on the historic church grounds. It also shows the way thinking has changed from the 18th century to today. The memorial describes how in the 18th century, it was called sodomy and punishable by death. Today, it is called homosexuality and it comes with freedom and choice.


The memorial is dated June 1999. Since then, gay marriage has been legalized in the Netherlands. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, it will be legal everywhere and we will look back with horror at the way the GLBT community has been treated and isolated.