” The true charm of pedestrians does not lie
in the walking,
or in the scenery, but in the talking. ”

– Mark Twain –

City Walk through Dordrecht

The historic inner city of Dordrecht lies concealed between mighty rivers. One of the most beautifull sight you will see in Holland is the Groothoofd, where the rivers Oude Maas [Old Meuse], Noord and Merwede join up. Standing on the quay you look out over the busiest river point of Europe. For centuries, the cloudy Dutch skies and this wide area where the rivers divide, have both been a source of inspiration for painters and poets. The old inner city can best be explored on foot.

By way of the elegant Wijnstraat for example, with its merchants’ houses and gentle bends, ending at the characteristic Grote Kerk (Great Church). Or along the cozy inner harbours, where trade has died down but the atmosphere of yesteryear lives on. The best traditions of a mediaeval mercantile city are reflected in nearly a thousand monuments. It is with good reason that the cityscape is protected cultural heritage. Few Dutch cities can measure up to Dordrecht in this respect

Dordrecht (Nederland). Voorstraathaven with Pottenkade on the left, along the Big Church.

 from “Blaeu’s Toonneel der Steden” Dutch city maps, Edited by Willem and Joan Blaeu), 1652. Blaeu's world map, Nova et Accuratissima Terrarum Orbis Tabula, incorporating the discoveries of Abel Tasman, was published in 1648.

Dordrecht, view to the Wijnhaven from the Nieuwbrug (left churchtower Bonifatiuskerk)

The walk begins at the VVV office and leads you through the 19th century circular expansion to the inner city, where you will come across scores of unusual things: poor-women’s almshouses for example, that actually consist of four courtyards, the oldest authentic dwelling in the Netherlands and Father Time, with the hour-glass on his head. Or the little naked boy in the gable of an aristocratic house, the strikingly leaning tower of a house of God and the breathtaking river view with which you are rewarded as you walk unsuspectingly through a city gate.

With the painters of the Golden Age the view of And the view of Dordrecht by the Dordrecht painter Albert Cuyp inspired the English painter William Turner to paint an almost identical town view. The walk takes about two hours. With a visit to monuments and museums along the route you can easily make it a complete day out. When we now cross Mazelaarsbrug, we are standing in front of the Grote of Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk [Great Church or Church of Our Lady]. Here we have a magnificent view of the more than 2 meters out of plumb leaning tower. At the foot is the “Rotterdamhuis”. This house, which originally stood in Rotterdam and had to be removed, was taken apart brick for brick and built up again here

Grote of Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk
The Grote of Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (the Big Church, or the Church of our good Lady) and its tower have a rich history. It was founded, at least the chapel which preceded it was founded, in the year 1064. The building of the church began in the third quarter of the 12th century. There are reports of work on the tower in 1285.

It is built in the Brabantine Gothic style, which was not only appreciated in Brabant itself but in Holland as well. Of all churches in Holland, the church of Dordrecht is the only one in true Brabantine style, not in one of the local variants. It is the only big Gothic church in Holland with stone vaults. The choir is the most richly decorated part of the church, and is executed in a white-colored natural stone.
The Grote of Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (the Big Church, or the Church of our good Lady)
It is attributed to Everaert Spoorwater, an architect from the Southern Netherlands who contributed to many Gothic churches of that period, and who already in 1434 was commissioned to finish the nave and the transepts, construction of which had already begun some four decades earlier. The church was burnt down completely in the great city fire in 1457 but the tower was largely saved. The choir however probably replaced an earlier one which was destroyed by the fire in 1457. It has five radiating chapels.

There is an interesting story to be told about this tower, and church towers in general. A few centuries ago, when most churches were built, the size of the church’s tower was an indication of the city’s wealth. You might notice that many towers look like this one: as if it was suddenly cut off, with the last bit added on hastily. (in this case the 4 clocks) This is usually because the town turned out to be less wealthy than they would have liked to think, and they ran out of money before they were finished. This isn’t the case in Dordrecht.

Dordrecht was a fabulously wealthy city, as it was positioned at a crossroads of some main rivers and played an important part in trade, so they could easily have afforded to make it 125 meters high, as was intended.
Unfortunately, Dordrecht’s position in between rivers also meant that the ground was very wet and spongy, and unable to support a structure so high. The tower started leaning over 2,5 meters, which it still visibly does right now, and the building had to stop, otherwise it would simply have fallen over.

This, entirely in stone vaulted cruciform basilica, was built in the Brabant Gothic style. The church has a triple-nave ship with side chapels, transept and a choir aisle. In the Lady Choir, with 15th century stellar vault, a wall painting depicts the legend of St. Sura. This saint was said to have given the order to build the church. In the Lady Choir water colors of the vaulting rosettes are displayed.

The interior is well worth a visit. The 16th century choir stalls with Renaissance style wood carvings are renowned. Other special things are the Rococo pulpit with baptism screen in Baroque style (1756), the brass choir screen (completed in 1744), the organ (1671/1859) and a number of windows, interesting because of the depictions, including the St. Elizabeth’s flood, the fire in the Grote Kerk and the ‘Dordtse Synode’.

In the shop in the church a brochure with a description of the church is on sale, in addition to a large number of souvenirs, picture postcards and books. We walk via Pottenkade alongside the church, into the Grotekerksbuurt, where I live!. Then along the old harbours, throuh th Wijnstraat (the Winestreet) and then ww have come to one of the gates which gave access to the city: de Groothoofdspoort.

De Groothoofdspoort (the Big Head Gate, the gate at the city’s main jetty) was originally built between 1440 and 1450. In 1617/1618 a new Renaissance gate was built around the old late Gothic gate. In the passageway through the gate, the vaulted roof is a reminder of the late Gothic construction. In 1692 the tower was replaced by a dome.

 Dordrecht, HofstraatWe are now standing on the “land side” of the gate and see the coat of arms of Dordrecht, held by two griffins. This is the work of Gillis Huppe. When we walk through the gate we are standing at the meeting point of three rivers: Oude Maas [Old Meuse], Noord and Merwede. Here we can enjoy the magnificent river view. We are also standing on a piece of historic ground. This was where the passengers whose destination was
Dordrecht came ashore: Maximilian of Austria, the counts, stadholders of Holland, Philip II and manyothers.

On this “water side” of the gate we see the relief figure of the Virgin or patroness of the city of Dordrecht. She is seated in an enclosure (which symbolizes her unmarried state on one hand and on the other hand refers to the impossibility of capturing the city of Dordrecht because it is surrounded by water), with the arms of Dordrecht in one hand and a palm branch in the other. Around her are shown the coats of arms of Dutch cities which stood in relation to Dordrecht. We now walk to the left along the water. On our left we see a number of beautifully restored buildings. We cross the Damiatebrug. This double cast iron bridge was built to the design of the city master builder Itz. Enjoy the view of the Groothoofdspoort (right) and the harbor (left) with the Grote Kerk [Great Church] in the background. On the bridge we look back for a moment to the warehouses on Kuipershaven [Coopers harbors]. The most eye-catching building is no. 17-18 (anno 1658) with its neck-gable or spout-gable. This is only part of the walk. If you’d like to complete the whole walk, you can obtain the total description at the Dordrecht local VVV tourist office for a small fee.

Kunstrondje Dordt – Dordrecht Art WalkVVV Tourist office
Do you love art and antiques? Along the ‘Kunstrondje Dordt’ [Dordt Art Walk] there are many tempting antique and curio shops, galleries and art dealers’, antiquarian bookshops and unusual ateliers. On the first Sunday of every month they open extra for you from 12 a.m.-5 p.m.! A free booklet with addresses and walking route is available from the VVV and those participating in the ‘Art Walk’.

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