WENDY’S WANDERINGS; A VISIT TO DORDRECHT, THE OLDEST CITY OF HOLLAND
BY WENDY HUGHES
Last week I promised to tell you about our trip to Dordrecht, the town that was first mentioned around 980 A.D., when it was called ‘Thuredriht’, a name most likely referring to a ford ‘a driht’ or a‘drecht’ over the river. The ‘Thure’ no longer exists today, although it is most likely now part of the Voorstraat harbour also called the Old harbour. The name Dordrecht comes from Thuredriht (circa 1120), Thuredrecht and appears to mean ‘thoroughfare’; a ship-canal or – river through which ships were pulled by rope from one river to another. Earlier etymologists had assumed that the ‘drecht’ came from the Latin ‘trajectum’, a ford, but this was rejected in 1996 and Drecht is now supposed to have been derived from ‘draeg’, which means to pull, tow or drag. The city was formed along the river midst its peat swamps. Around 1120 the first reference to Dordrecht was made in a remark that the Count Dirk IV of Holland was murdered in 1049 near “Thuredrech“.
From the 10th century onwards the Counts of Holland and their court often stayed at Dordrecht and as time went by, it proved to be favourably positioned strategically at the crossways of trade routes, which were then largely over water and soon the town achieved the size and status of a city.
According to the historians the town was granted a charter in 1220 by Count William I of Holland (1168-1222) and in other documents we can find evidence that Dordrecht was already a city allowed to trade goods in 1200, by Theodore who was Count of Holland, ( Dirk VII, 1165-1203), who was married to Alida or Adeleide, a most ambitious woman.This was the first time that Count William I of Holland had bestowed this privilege. Therefore Dordrecht can call itself the oldest city of ‘Holland’. Locally Dordrecht is referred to as ‘Dordt,’ and over the years its inhabitants have learned to appreciate its history as well as working towards its future.
By the 12th and 13th centuries, Dordrecht developed into an important market city because of its strategic location and traded primarily in wine, wood and cereals, but on 18–19 November 1421, the town was hit by a terrible flood, called ‘The Saint Elisabeth’s flood, which flooded large parts of southern Holland. It was commonly said that over 10,000 people died in the flood, but recent research indicates that it was probably less than 200 people. In the floods seventeen villages in the neighborhood and 50 thousand hectares of land were destroyed, but Dordrecht itself survived the force of nature and becane a anisland. The extensive river and creek area shaped he Biesbosch, now a National Park givcing it its freakish appearance at this time and as . Dordrecht grew it became the most important city of Holland, and although it had to give up this position long ago, the footsteps fof history of the still echo in the streets today as well as evidence of its famous citizens such as Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt who governed the powerful merchant state of Holland in the Golden Age for 27 years. Supported by his brother Cornelis, and world famous painters, such as Ary Scheffer, Nicolaes Maes and Aelbert Cuyp and Vincent van Gogh who spent some time in Dordrecht.
When visiting Dordrecht it is perhaps a good idea to begin with a vist to the VVV Infornation centre, Spuiboulevard 99, and picking up a brochure, in English, which gives you plenty of information about the city and its greatest monuments – there ae 900 listed buildings and a large number are most interesting. Included in the brochure is a double page map in the centre, which will help you to locate the important ones. The staff an extremely friendly, speak perfect English and do take full advantage of the very comfortable chairs and settees to sit and plan your trip around the town before starting off – it certainly saves time wandering aimlessly and missing out on the important sights, but always bear in mind that Dordrecht was once the most important and powerful town in Holland until well into the 16th century before Amsterdam was proclaimed the legal capital of the Netherlands.
Standing on the friendly square the ‘Groothoofd’, you will have one of the best views in Holland of a three-river port. It is also one of the widest, and despite the modern ships, which keep moving on through these rivers, it still remains beautiful and reminds us that it was the rivers that not only brought Dordrecht trade, but also its abundance of fish, salmon in particular. There was so much salmon in the area that wealthy families would feed their servants salmon every day. They became so tired of salmon that they insisted on not having to eat salmon every day, but once a staple food, salmon is now a delicacy and now enjoyed in only one of the stylish Dordrecht restaurants.
Be sure to visit also The Dordrecht Museum where you will find the Dordrechts situated in the historical town centre among the monuments, old inland ports and lively shopping streets. The museum started with a single painting donated by a private individual, and by 1842 it was well established enjoyed by art lovers and collectors. It boasts an exceptional collection of paintings, prints a drawings, displayed in eleven rooms and a print gallery. The emphasis is on Dutch painting from the 17th century up to the present-day. One of the best examples is the 20ft-long View of Dordrecht painted by Adam Willaert.
Other venues not to miss are the Mr. Simon van Gijn Museum, an 18th century manor once the private residence of the banker, lawyer and collector Simon van Gijn. In these period rooms and kitchen you will be able to take a peep of upper class life and what a working day of a maid was really like. It also houses a fine collections of glassware, pottery, paintings, ship models, and antique toys. This museum was chosen in 2004 as the best small museum of the Netherlands.
There is so much to see and do in this city that I couldn’t possibly do justice in one article, so next week I will highlight other places of interest in this beautiful city.