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Neude Explore Utrecht

Mini tour – tour of the old city centre

This week we are sharing our first walk of this new serie of the Utrecht mini tours! This week again, we’re bringing you on a discovery trip of our city through picture and word. Can you also follow the #exploreutrecht mini tours this year? Then follows us on Facebook en Instagram for more information on starting locations and theme topics. 

This tour is a classic. It takes you around in a circle, for a change, and doesn’t tell just one story. It shows you the highlights of the city center.

The creation

For the creation of the city of Utrecht, we need to go back roughly to the year 40. That’s when the Romans decided to give their kingdom a northern boundary. Therefore, they built the Rijn castella (forts) along the south side of the river, one at every 8 to 10 kilometers, with watchtowers between them. The Domplein now stands in the location of one of these forts, along with the Dom tower, the Dom church and the neighboring buildings. If you want to know what happened in the meantime, you can ask one of the colleagues at Domunder (domunder.nl).

Priests, monks, and nuns

In the middle ages, Utrecht was the central point of the Roman Catholic religion in the Netherlands. The city was therefore full of priests, monks and nuns. One of the places where monks lived for centuries is where the Utrecht archives and the restaurant De Rechtbank are now located. In 1053, a monastery was founded. Due to the reformation, starting in 1580 things went downhill for the abbey. In 1837-1838, the last abbey buildings were rebuilt into a court. For more information, see the mini tour about the Romanesque building style.

Inner port

The Oudegracht is the longest connected inner harbor in the city, dug between the 10th and 12th centuries. During the past centuries, more and more homes have been built along it, rather than farms and trading houses. Some had city castles built there, for example Oudaen, Drakenburg and Clarenburg.

Trade settlement

The Steenweg and Lange Elisabethstraat form the heart of the trade settlement that the city center used to be. The houses were mainly made of wood and if there was a fire, entire neighborhoods often went up in flames. Nowadays these are shopping streets with stone houses.

Peace under threat

Until 1529, a cloister with a hospice dedicated to St. Catherina stood on Vredenburg. In 1529, room needed to be made for Vredenburg: a coercion castle commissioned by king Karel V to keep the Utrecht inhabitants under control. The castle was supposed to protect the peace in the city, but the canons were aimed at the city. In 1577, the citizens occupied the castle and destroyed it (see the mini tour on Katrijn van Leemput). A square emerged where trade took place.

Knights and patriots

The Neude hasn’t always been a square. It used to be a swamp, wet and impassable. After the city government gave the assignment of filling it up with sand and debris, it became an important trading square, along the trading route from Gelre to Holland. But that wasn’t all: in 1471, a knight tournament was held, and in 1786 the first patriotic troops were sworn in here (see the mini tour on Quint Ondaatje). After the grain exchange was moved to Vredenburg, trade was mostly over, replaced by cafés and bars and, in 1924, the head post office.

St Jan

We are now on the other side of the Dom church from the Paulus abbey. The Janskerk, dedicated to St. Jan, is now a protestant church. But between 1050 and 1580, it was the center of St Jan’s catholic immunity. An immunity is an area, often closed off from the outside world by a wall or a moat, where the worldly law is not valid. The ‘kerkhof’ (church square) as we now know it was therefore not accessible to the normal public until 1680, and was thus also much quieter.

Now we’re almost all the way around. The next time you visit the city, you’ll know which highlights are definitely worth seeing and showing. But you can also join us and be guided through our lovely, check the guided tours page for more information. Hope to see you soon!

Explore Utrecht Guided Tours

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You can also download the Explore Utrecht App in the Favoroute store and get an awesome map with all our favourite spots in town.

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About Tom Lensink

Tom is a historian, teacher, and group and public guide with a big passion for the history of Utrecht. Besides conducting historical research and guiding the public during discovery trips at Dom Under, he is also a blogger for Explore Utrecht, involved in Scouting as a mentor, and an avid runner. In his free time, he loves to grab a drink in one of the many cafés around Neude, and he enjoys looking for peace and quiet in one of the many squares and parks in and around the city.

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