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

De Boog Brewery

Brouwerij

As I learn about Utrecht’s history, it’s like a constant game of connect the dots or six degrees of separation. There are frequent light-bulb moments when I can make connections between various buildings and locations around the city. Yesterday, as I was reading up on De Zeven Steegjes, I realized that there was a connection to another building I’d meant to research after photographing it recently.

During our visit to the kerstmarkt (Christmas market) that runs along the Oudegracht, we’d gone down to the wharf level so I could take some photos. As I was looking around, I realized one of the buildings on the opposite side of the canal was a (former) brewery called De Boog. There was a gate leading down to the wharf level with Boog written above it, as well, so I figured the bulk of the buildings that you can see in the photo above were a part of the brewery at some point. However, once home, I forgot to look further into the topic and it slipped my mind until yesterday when I saw the brewery mentioned in relation to De Zeven Steegjes.

De Boog brewery began production sometime around 1584 and remained in business until 1897, when industrial competition became too great. The Oudegracht was a common site for breweries at the time, because the canal waters themselves could be used in the brewing process, and the canal also served as a convenient way to bring in the materials and ship out the finished product. In an interesting bit of trivia, the brewery was damaged in the same storm in 1674 that caused the destruction of the cathedral’s nave. The nave was never rebuilt, but obviously the brewery was.

The brewery was originally owned by the Van Wyckersloot family, but eventually came into the ownership of Willem de Kock in the 1700s. Upon his death in 1761, he bequeathed almost all of his property, including the brewery, to the Roman Catholic church, specifically to benefit the poor and the poor houses. The brewery remained in operation and the profits went toward the construction of housing for the poor, including the building of the Zeven Steegjes! As a result, some of the names of the seven streets bear names that relate to the brewery and Willem de Kock: Boogstraat, Kockstraat, Brouwerstraat (Brewer Street) and Moutstraat (Malt Street). I can’t help but think that another of the streets, Suikerstraat (Sugar Street), might also bear some relation to the brewery and the brewing process.

It was nice to have this bit of research fall in my lap yesterday. It’s like a two-for-one deal in knowledge! I recommend taking a look at the photos and paintings included on the brewery’s Wikipedia page, particularly the painting of the buildings in the year they closed. It’s always interesting to see how little some sites have changed.

De Boog

Lucky Number Seven

Zeven Steegjes
I don’t remember how I first came across De Zeven Steegjes (The Seven Alleys), but somehow I always missed going to see them, even when I had plans to go see them. I know I’d hoped to see them in past years while at the kerstmarkt on Twijnstraat, since they’re nearby, but I guess I always got distracted by the gluhwein and the live nativity donkeys and sheep. Early this past November, however, I did finally get to see them, although purely by luck! I was just wandering around and found myself in an area I hadn’t visited before, when lo and behold, there they were!

I’m sure by now you’re wondering why I’m blathering on about alleys, so I’ll try to get to the point. These alleys were the result of a housing shortage in the 1800s, particularly housing for the poor. By the mid 1800s, the Catholic Poverty Organization began building simple homes for Roman Catholic children and families who were dependent upon charity. Eventually, with pressure from the government to provide more housing, 100 homes were built. With demands that there be no blind alleys and that the streets be straight to allow the wind to blow through (perhaps to avoid any stagnancy that might lead to a cholera outbreak), the result was the zeven steegjes.

Een Steegje

The buildings were simple to the extreme, containing no kitchen or toilets, but they were still fairly modern for their time. In 1952, approximately 100 years after they were built, they were sold by the Roman Catholic church and purchased by the city of Utrecht. Families still lived there, but because of the lack of kitchens and toilets, there was always talk of demolishing the buildings. In 1972, some basic renovations were done, but it wasn’t until 1992 that comprehensive renovations took place.

Steegje

There are now 166 homes spread out down Korte Rozendaal, Lange Rozendaal, Kockstraat, Brouwerstraat, Boogstraat, Moutstraat, Suikerstraat and Fockstraat. The homes and streets have retained some of their working-class neighborhood feel, yet they’re also attractive and charming streets just a few steps from the Catharijnesingel, part of the canal that rings the old city center of Utrecht. There’s a strong sense of community, encouraged by a traditional three-day block party held at the end of August each year. The party celebrates both the neighborhood, where many of the buildings are now considered municipal monuments, as well as the birthday of the (former) Queen Wilhelmina. In fact, I think it may have been a mention of the annual party that first brought de zeven steegjes to my attention.

Anniversary