Utrecht, where the Treaty

18/05/2018 11:26

Utrecht was one of the cities which created the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, embryo of the Netherlands. Here also was signed the treaty by which Europe was redistributed between the houses of Austria and the one of Bourbon, without forgetting the British interests.

Taking a glance at any map can be clearly seen the footprints left by the city walls and the castles surrounding it. Not in vain Rome established in the first century several fortresses along the river; one of them was the Castellum Ultra Trajectum which derived in Utrecht’s name. A few years before the end of the first millennium it was visited by the Andalusian traveller and merchant from Tortosa Ibrahim ibn Ya'qub who describes its riches and its economy based on the fabrics and whose impressions were collected by another geographer from Al Andalus in Kitâb al-Masâlik Wa'l-Mamâlik, the Book of Roads and Realms.

Between 1713 and 1715 were signed in the city a series of treaties that put an end to the War of Spanish Succession, in fact a European restructuring that changed the influences of Austria and Bourbon royal houses and with the British Crown taking advantage of the situation. Basically it supposed the end of the Spanish monopoly on the commerce with the New World and the cession of Aragon Crown territories: Sicilia and Sardinia, given to the houses of Savoy and the Austria and Minorca that was yielded to England. Spain also lost its last possessions in the Netherlands and Gibraltar.

In the sixteenth century Reformation theses success turned to Protestantism a good number of north of Europe churches. Some were confiscated and others were transformed into the new cult. More recently, on the Steenweg street in Utrecht, one of them, the Buurkerk, has been converted into the Museum Speelklok, museum of mechanical toys, another, Maria Minor, is the busy Olivier Café, which still retains the altar and the organ. Aside Reformation, the St Martin Cathedral suffered, on August 1, 1674, the consequences of a tornado that destroyed part of the central nave. The cathedral began to be built with the project of the master Jan van Henegouwen in the thirteenth century and would not end until 1420. After the devastating effects of the tornado the bell tower was isolated from the church. The space that separated them ended up becoming the Domplein, the Dom square. The Domtoren, the bell tower, is now one of the city landmarks that can be ascended after climbing just 465 steps up to the viewpoints located at 229 and 311 feet, near the top of the tower, at 367 feet high which makes it Netherlands highest. Inside are the carillon and the fourteen monumental bells cast in 1505. Also can be seen the church basements, Domunder, where the last archaeological excavations discovered remains of the Roman fort and the base of the church itself.

In one corner of the square is the Academiegebow, the University Hall, The building was erected in 1579, the year of the creation of the Union of Utrecht and in it was signed in July 1581 the agreement of the first independent state of the Netherlands, the seven United Provinces that grouped Brabant, Gelderland, Zupthen, Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, Mechelen and Utrecht. In front there is a huge stone with engraved runic characters and next to this a pedestal that supports a statue dedicated to the count Jan van Nassau.

Other Utrecht’s landmarks are its canals. In a country without mountains, the layout of waterways provided better merchandise transport and distribution. In the city the main canal was built between the 11th and 12th centuries, it is the Oudengracht, the old canal, and links Kromme Rijn and the Vecht rivers. Along were installed docks and warehouses and also tunnels to get the unevenness between the road and the piers. Many downtown streets were originally designed just to ease access to the canal. At the moment the route of the Oudengracht, from Museum Kwartier to the district of Wijk C on the north, has become a pleasant walk. The old freight docks have replaced the warehouses by restaurants that at the slightest good weather take their tables out to the docks. Where the canal bends, in an extension designed to allow the turn of the boats, were constructed the first department stores of the city, Winkel van Sinkel, with a neoclassic facade incorporating four copies of Athenian Acropolis caryatids.

Today Utrecht continues growing, also upwards. Around the modern central railway station, Utrecht Centraal, there is an extensive covered shopping area with more than one hundred and fifty shops, Hoog Catharijne, next to the Vredenburg musical centre of or the tower of a bank ended up in 2010 trying to compete with the Domtoren. Twenty two feet left. Further westward is Lombok neighbourhood, despite its Indonesian name, Kanaalstraat its populated basically by Turkish origin people. It is evident in the shops and especially by night, in the blue neon illuminating Ulu Cami mosque minarets and its modern cultural centre. Following the waters of the canal next to Leidseweg, there’s an old sawmill. Two drawbridges, so characteristic in the Netherlands, cross the canal, remember the one that Van Gogh painted in Langlois, next to Arles, France.

© J.L.Nicolas


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