Fetching Water, Then and Now

Pump It Up
(water pump next to the Pieterskerk)

Jack and Jill went up a hill
to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
and Jill came tumbling after.

Now admittedly, there’s little risk of falling down hills here in Utrecht, but if Jack and Jill had been sent to fetch a pail of water, they might have been more likely to fall into a canal. In the middle ages, many homes had their own well or pump from which they got their water, but it was often contaminated by leaking cesspools. The water was often so awful that people preferred to get water from the canals, despite the fact that the canals themselves were often dumping grounds for all sorts of filth and waste.

Fortunately, by the late 1700s/early 1800s, they were able to drill deeper and get fresher water that was better protected. Along the way, these public pumps began to take on a more permanent appearance, as the pumps were encased in stone structures and featured large iron handles and bronze spouts that were highly decorated, often with fanciful animal heads. The tops of the pump structures often had some sort of lamp, as well.

Head in a Head
(detail of the water pump on Breedstraat with the decorative spout)

At one point in the late 1800s, Utrecht had more than 6000 pumps, with 60 of them being public pumps. Today, there are only a handful of old pumps still to be seen around town, and they’re all simply for show now.

One of the most attractive of the water pumps still to be seen is the one at Mariaplaats (a copy of the original). It has a beautiful lion’s head for a spout and sits in a small square shaded by trees. Historically, this pump location was one of the most famous, as well. The water from it was of such good quality that it was shipped to Amsterdam where it was sold by the barrel.

Maria Waterpomp

Shades of Green
(photos of St. Maria Pomp, built in 1844)

Yesterday I wrote about the new water pumps that have been installed around town offering free tap water. They may be useful and a good idea, but they lack the charm of their older counterparts. Many of today’s pumps are located near parks, whereas most of the pumps from the 1800s that remain are located near churches. Changing times, changing needs.

There used to be a grand pump in the middle of Neude, one of the big squares in the center of town, but it was finally removed in 1932. It features multiple lanterns and must have been a bright spot for gathering in the evening. You can see an old postcard image of it here, although the image must have been reversed when the card was printed, as the Domtoren and some of the buildings in front still remain, but should most definitely be on the other side of the picture!

The next time you’re in Utrecht and you see one of these old pumps, take a moment to be grateful for fresh, clean, tasty water that requires little more than an easy shift of a handle, rather than a trek with buckets in hand and a full-body workout. But also be thankful that these interesting pieces of history haven’t been lost and forgotten.

Buurkerk Waterpomp
(classically inspired water pump outside the Buurkerk)
Geertekerk Waterpomp
(Geertekerk water pump)
Breedstraat Waterpomp
(Breedstraat water pump on a Saturday morning amidst the ancient, outdoor fabric market)

Happy World Water Day

Water in Janskerkhof
Happy Wereld Water Dag (World Water Day)! We seem to be on an environmental kick this week, what with the national tree party day yesterday and now the United Nation’s day to raise awareness of sustainable fresh water management. Utrecht has been involved in hosting related events in past years, including the installation of free drinking water taps at various locations in the city.

Not a lot of things are free here, including toilets, but there are a couple of places where you can get free drinking water if you’re in a pinch. The first is the one pictured above, located at Janskerkhof. The second one, which came a bit later, is located at Neude, although it might be bit hard to find right now what with all of the set-up for the Tweetakt Festival, which begins Friday. This water fountain in Neude is located over by the Dutch Games Garden and ABN AMRO if you’re there and need some water.

So raise a glass of water to the hope that someday everyone will have easy access to clean water!

Water in Neude

Foto Vrijdag: Reflections of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Bridge at Night
One of the things I like about Dutch cities is the way they use a variety of lights to add to the overall appeal. You can make the most of cheap holidays by simply wandering the streets of any decent-size Dutch city — Amsterdam, Utrecht, Gouda, Delft — soaking up the sights and the sounds. Many of the canal bridges throughout the country often have special lighting of some sort, turning a simple walk through town into a fantastic light show, as you can see in this photo of one of the many Amsterdam canal bridges. Of course, Utrecht has taken it all to new levels with the Trajectum Lumen light art display. Every night, you can enjoy everything from simple blue lights under the canal bridges to high-tech digital light displays in hidden canal nooks.

Foto Vrijdag: Keukenhof Duck

If you love flowers, you may be interested in knowing that the famous Keukenhof Gardens will be opening again soon. In fact, they’re opening next week, 24 March, and the theme this year is Germany: Land of Poets and Philosophers.

We went last year while my parents were visiting and I couldn’t help but love these floating water sculptures, especially when the ducks got involved. I loved how it looked like the two were having a conversation.

Foto Vrijdag 2.50 Golden Arch

The snow they’ve been predicting off and on all week has arrived with a vengeance, it seems. Transportation seems to have ground to a standstill across the country. I’m glad we’re snug at home. Still, I think it’s warmer than it was Sunday when we went to the Christmas market (kerstmarkt). It was a cold but pretty day, with some beautiful golden sunlight toward the later part of the afternoon. I particularly liked the golden reflection on this bridge, which is at the very southern end of the old city center of Utrecht.

Foto Vrijdag 2.44 Sunlight Remembered

Light and Water
This was taken a month ago. Back when we still had sunshine. Wasn’t it glorious? I like to look at this photo to remember what it was like. Hopefully, it will return before too long! I hope everyone has a cheerful, and dry, weekend.

Water Engineering

Dutch Design
The Discovery channel recently aired an episode about the Rotterdam port on the show called Extreme Engineering (Build It Big is the title in the US, I believe). The program discussed the ways in which Dutch engineers were building new land to expand the port, which is one of the busiest in the world. By taking sand from the sea bed, they’re able to build new, stable land to add about three square miles to the port. They’re expanding the Netherlands without having to invade any other countries! Impressive!

The Dutch are experts at land/water management, not surprising considering many parts of the country are built below sea level. In fact, while we were out driving around last week, we noticed a few times that the water in the canals next to the road was actually higher than the road. It felt like I was back in New Orleans. The Dutch are such experts, that they helped build the Palm Islands in Dubai (hopefully they got paid first) and helped expand Singapore, and are world leaders in dredging and land expansion.

We got our own little close-up view of the behind-the-scenes workings of Dutch management of land and water a couple of weeks ago. As we were trying to find Prins Hendriklaan to make our way to the Rietveld-Schröder House, we soon came across a dead end. Prins Hendriklaan was under some construction. In fact, the road was missing for about a block.
Dutch Engineering
It may not look quite so impressive, other than just a big hole in the ground, until you realize that the road intersects a canal. If you look closely to the left of the following photo, just behind the red machine, runs the canal.
Water and Earth
The street doesn’t form a bridge over the canal. It completely blocks the canal at that point. The canal then starts up again to the right.

It’s interesting to see the physical structures that go into maintaining a balance between land and water. It’s even more interesting to know that there’s a long history and tradition behind these structures. If you get a chance to see the Science/Discovery Channel program, I recommend it. It’s truly impressive on multiple levels.

Return of the Utrecht Moat

The other day I saw this video thanks to the 24oranges blog. I know the areas being discussed, but didn’t realize that the area first mentioned had been at risk of being built up into a large motorway. As it is, it’s a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood, with trees lining the canal. It’s where I spent part of my first Koninginnedag here, and where I enjoy taking Pippo for a quiet walk.

I thought I’d post a few of my photos of the area to give you another view of some of the areas being discussed.
Life Is Good
Boulevard Canal
Mooie Brug

I might not have known that the one area in the north of the city had been at risk, but I did know about the “shortest motorway”. It’s over by the Vredenburg on the eastern edge of the city, near the station. The traffic is gone now and they’re definitely working to return the water to that spot. My first year here, I did a bit of a then-and-now project for my parents, based on a calendar of old photos I bought for them for Christmas. As you can see here, this is a photo of the main street through Utrecht. The bridge is crossing over what was then the canal.
When I took my photo of the same area in 2008, some parts looked surprisingly similar, but other parts were quite different. The road had widened, obviously, but it was no longer water running under the bridge; it was cars. The motorway was open until this year.

I’m certainly glad they never expanded the motorway. It would ruin some of the beauty of the city. I’m also quite happy to see that the water is returning to the motorway that was built. With all the renovation and construction going on in that part of town, hopefully the end result will be an improvement to the already beautiful city.