Visit Holland - The Netherlands
Utrecht city and municipality is the capital and most populous city of the Dutch province of Utrecht. It is located in the eastern corner of the Randstad conurbation, and is the fourth largest city of the Netherlands with a population of 316,448 on 1 February 2012.
Utrecht's ancient city centre features many buildings and structures from the Early Middle Ages. It has been the religious centre of the Netherlands since the eighth century. Currently it is the see of the Archbishop of Utrecht, the most important Dutch Roman Catholic leader. Utrecht is also the see of the archbishop of the Old Catholic church, titular head of the Union of Utrecht (Old Catholic), and the location of the offices of the main Protestant church. Until the Dutch Golden Age, Utrecht was the most important city of the Netherlands; then, Amsterdam became its cultural centre and most populous city.
Utrecht is host to Utrecht University, the largest university of the Netherlands, as well as several other institutes for higher education. Due to its central position within the country, it is an important transport hub for both rail and road transport. It has the second highest number of cultural events in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam.
Although there is some evidence of earlier inhabitation in the region of Utrecht, dating back to the Stone Age (app. 2200 BCE) and settling in the Bronze Age (app. 1800–800 BCE), the founding date of the city is usually related to the construction of a Roman fortification (castellum), probably built in around 50 CE. These fortresses were designed to house a cohort of about 500 Roman soldiers. Near the fort a settlement would grow housing artisans, traders and soldiers' wives and children. A line of such fortresses was built after the Roman emperor Claudius decided the empire should not expand further north. To consolidate the border the limes Germanicus defense line was constructed. This line was located at the borders of the main branch of the river Rhine, which at that time flowed through a more northern bed compared to today, along what is now the Kromme Rijn.
In Roman times, the name of the Utrecht fortress was simply Traiectum denoting its location at a possibility to cross the Rhine. Traiectum became Dutch Trecht. The U comes from Old Dutch "uut" meaning downriver. It was added to distinguish from the other Tricht, Maas-tricht. In 11th century official documents it was then Latinized as Ultra Traiectum. Around the year 200, the wooden walls of the fortification were replaced by sturdier tuff stone walls, remnants of which are still to be found below the buildings around Dom Square.
From the middle of the 3rd century Germanic tribes regularly invaded the Roman territories. Around 275 the Romans could no longer maintain the northern border and Utrecht was abandoned. Little is known about the next period 270–650. Utrecht is first spoken of again centuries after the Romans left. Under the influence of the growing realms of the Franks a church was build in the 7th century within the walls of the Roman fortress during Dagobert I's reign. In ongoing border conflicts with the Frisians the church was however destroyed.
Utrecht's cityscape features the Dom Tower, belonging to the former cathedral (Dom Church). An ongoing debate is if any building in or near the centre of town may surpass the Dom Tower in height (112 m). Nevertheless, some tall buildings are now being constructed that will become part of the skyline of Utrecht. The second highest building of the city, the Rabobank-tower, completed in 2010 and standing 105 m (344.49 ft) tall. Two antennas will increase that height to 120 m (393.70 ft). Two other buildings were constructed around the Nieuw Galgenwaard stadium (2007). These buildings, the 'Kantoortoren Galghenwert' and 'Apollo Residence', stand 85.5 and 64.5 metres high respectively.
Another landmark is the old centre and the canal structure in the inner city. The Oudegracht is a curved canal, partly following an old arm of the Rhine. It is lined with the unique wharf-basement structures that create a two-level street along the canals. The inner city has largely retained its Medieval structure, and the moat ringing the old town is largely intact. Because of the role of Utrecht as a fortified city,which restricted construction outside the walls, until the 19th century the city has remained very compact. Surrounding the medieval core there is a ring of late 19th and early 20th century neighbourhoods, with newer neighbourhoods positioned farther out. The eastern part of Utrecht remains fairly open. The Dutch Water Line, moved east of the city in the early 19th century required open lines of fire thus prohibiting all permanent constructions until the mid of the 20th century on the east side of the city.
Due to the past importance of Utrecht as a religious centre, several monumental churches have survived. Most prominent is the Dom Church. Other notable churches include the romanesque St Peter's and St John's churches, the gothic churches of St James and St Nicholas, and the so-called Buurkerk, now converted into a museum for automatically playing musical instruments .
Utrecht city has an active cultural life, and in the Netherlands is second only to Amsterdam. Utrecht aims to become cultural capital of Europe in 2018.
There are several theatres and theatre companies. The 1941 main city theatre was built by Dudok. Besides theatres there is a large number of cinemas including three arthouse cinemas. Utrecht is host to the Netherlands Film Festival. The city has an important classical music hall Vredenburg (1979 by Herman Hertzberger). Its acoustics are considered among the best of the 20th century original music halls. Young musicians are educated in the conservatory (a department of the Utrecht School of the Arts). There is a specialised museum of automatically playing musical instruments. Located at the Oudegracht is the rock club Tivoli (which has a second location just outside the centre). There are several other venues for music throughout the city.
There are many art galleries in Utrecht. There are also several foundations to support art, and artists. Training of artists is done at the Utrecht School of the Arts. The Centraal Museum has many exhibitions on the arts, including a permanent exhibition on the works of Utrecht resident illustrator Dick Bruna, who is best known for creating Miffy ("Nijntje", in Dutch). Utrecht also houses one of the landmarks of modern architecture, the 1924 Rietveld Schröder House, which is listed on UNESCO's world heritage sites.
The Rietveld Schröder House from 1924
Every Saturday a mason adds another letter to The Letters of Utrecht, an endless poem in the cobblestones of the street in Utrecht. With the Letters, Utrecht has a social sculpture as a growing monument created for the benefit of future people.
To involve the city population as a whole (rather than the elite alone) in the cultural riches of the city, Utrecht city, in collaboration with the different cultural organisations, regularly organise cultural Sundays. During a thematic Sunday several organisations create a program, which is open to everyone without, or with a very much reduced, admission fee. Furthermore there are many initiatives for amateur artists; e.g. in the performing arts, painting and sculpture. The city subsidises an organisation for amateur education in arts aimed at all inhabitants (Utrechts Centrum voor de Kunsten), as does the university for its staff and students. Additionally there are also several private initiatives. The city council provides coupons for discounts to inhabitants who receive welfare to be used with many of the initiatives.
Utrecht has several smaller and larger museums. Many of those are located in the southern part of the old town, the Museumkwartier.
* Aboriginal Art Museum Located at the Oudegracht this museum has a small exhibit of Australian Aboriginal Art
* Centraal Museum Located in the MuseumQuarter this municipal museum has a large collection of art, design, and historical artifacts.
* Dick Bruna Huis Part of Centraal Museum this separate location is dedicated to Miffy creator Dick Bruna
* Museum Catharijneconvent Museum of the Catholic Church shows the history of Christian culture and arts in the Netherlands
* National museum 'From musical clock to street organ' National Museum in the centre of the city, displays several centuries of mechanical musical instruments.
* Railroad Museum Railroad sponsored museum on the history of the Dutch railroads
* University museum Utrecht University museum includes the ancient botanical garden
* Volksbuurtmuseum Wijk C
* Money museum, museum of the Royal Dutch Mint, located in the actual building where Dutch coins are minted.
* The Utrecht Archives Utrecht Archives are located at Hamburgerstraat 28 in Utrecht