Located right in the middle of Holland, Utrecht is a public transportation hub, a large university center, a historical landmark and Party Central; once, Utrecht even hold the seat of The Pope. Nearly half of the population of Utrecht today are students. The other half are scholars and professors! 🙂
The history of Utrecht. Utrecht was inhabited by the Romans in 47 AD (yes, 1.954 years ago) by a ford in the river Rijn. The Latin name for a river crossing was “Trajectum” or “Ultra Trajectum”, which was later mispronounced by the natives as “Ultrajectum”, “Trecht” and then “Utrecht”.
In 690 AD the first bishop of Utrecht, Willibrord, returned to the fort and built a church on the site which now houses the Dom Square. This was the foundation for Utrecht’s role as a religious centre. Today, De Dom is the landmark of Utrecht and a great masterpiece of Medieval architecture.
In the 11th century bishop Bernulphus planned five churches in the form of a cross, with the Cathedral as it’s centre. By this time Utrecht had attracted the interest of many merchants who dug its canals and built its wharves, many of which remain in use today. In the 12th century trade reached its summit and the population grew to 8.000, but quickly went into relapse due to the fact that the rivers which served the city turned to land.
Construction of the Dom church began in the late 13th century. The church displays strong architectural influences from France and Cologne and was completed, together with its 112-metre tower, in the 14th century. The middle section of the church was later destroyed (by a tornado, apparently), but the spire is still standing and is the most important landmark of the city.
After the middle ages the area enclosed by the city walls (14th century) was slowly filled up, providing housing for the poorer population. Many of these houses are still occupied to this date. The city walls and outer canals fell into disrepair by the 16th century and were converted to parkland.
By the 17th century Utrecht had no significant trade, in stark contrast to other cities of the Republic where shipping was an important stimulus. Attempts to expand and rebuild the city were not geared towards upgrading the living conditions of the general public, but were meant to enhance the scenery. The population fell to just 25.000 in 1784, but soon recovered and reached 42.000 in 1865. After that people started moving to the suburbs and the population of the old city fell once again. In comparison, about 14.000 people live in the old city centre today.
Although city planners have tried to destroy the old Utrecht, one can see its history (nearly) everywhere. Ancient houses, churches, canals, bridges and even a traditional Dutch windmill in the heart of town.
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