Dordrecht, coat of ArmsDordrecht is my hometown and
it is the oldest city of Holland

They say that for a good marriage, the woman must have a past and the man must have a future.

Well the ‘marriage’ between the people of Dordrecht and their town is a  shining example of this.

Just as Marianne is the symbol of France, the patron saint who symbolizes Dordrecht, has a wonderful past.

The monuments determine the face of a city which originated almost a thousand years ago.

On the right: Oil painting on canvas, View of Dordrecht (from the Maas) by Aelbert Cuyp (Dordrecht 1620 –Dordrecht 1691), signed bottom left: A Cuyp, 1650. Dordrecht is seen from the north-east on the conjunction of two rivers, the Oude Maas and Dordtse Kil, marked by the ‘Standard-Mole’ windmill.

The massive square tower is the Grote Kerk (The Big Church). The quai side is shown as it was rebuilt in 1647 and the scene dates from a bit later after the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 with an absence of warships, and possibly painted for the artist himself at the time of his marriage to the wealthy Cornelia Bosman, in 1658.

The sun is striking the south-west face of the church tower and both clocks read 5 minutes past seven.

A copy of the left half with the view of Dordrecht is in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and the View of SDordrect in the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood show appoximately the same view and a painting by Calraet in the National Gallery, London is derived from this.

Oil painting on canvas, View of Dordercht (from the Maas) by Aelbert Cuyp (Dordrecht 1620 –Dordrecht 1691), signed bottom left: A Cuyp, 1650.

Aelbert Cuyp View of Dordrecht

The first official written mention of Dordrecht dates from 980 A.D., where it is called ‘Thuredriht’, a name most likely referring to a ford – ‘driht’ or ‘drecht’ being an evolution of ‘trajectum’ – in a certain river ‘Thure’, no longer in existence, most likely part of the Voorstraat harbor also called the Old harbor, or for that matter near the dwelling of a fisherman, or whatever of that name. Even the old German thunder god ‘Thor’ has put forth a claim to the title. The name of the settlement, however, seems to have been in use for centuries before. Thor or Thur(e) – driht from the middle ages became Dordrecht.

From the 10th century onward the Counts of Holland and their court often stayed at Dordrecht. As time went by, the residential nucleus proved to be very favorably positioned: strategically at the crossing of trade routes, which were then largely over water. The settlement soon achieved the size and status of a real city.

In accordance to historians the town charter of Dordrecht was granted in 1220 by Count William I of Holland (1168-1222). In other writings we can find proof that Dordrecht was already a city who was aloud to trade goods in 1200, by Theodore, Count of Holland, another name for Dirk VII (1165-1203), he was married with Alida or Adeleide, a strong ambitious woman. It was the first time that Count William I of Holland had bestowed this privilege. Dordrecht may thus call itself the oldest city of ‘Holland’.

Dordrecht, city wall, gates and towers around 1425. This illustration tries to give a global impression of the size of the Dordrecht city wall with gates and towers, just after the Sint-Elisabeth flood (1421), with the hinterland (Grote Waard) largely swallowed by water. The 3D drawing is based, among other things, on the publication

Dordrecht, 3D drawing (Zock Design, Dordrecht)  of city wall, gates and towers around 1425.

Grotekerksbuurt and City Hall

Grotekerksbuurt and City Hall, 2019

A View of the Wijnstraat, Dordrecht 1745 by Aert Schouman, born 4 March 1710. Dutch printmaker, painter, draughtsman and ornamental painter.I n the foreground to the left is the Exchange, in the background the houses Scharlaken, Leeuwensteijn and Blijenburg Work location: Dordrecht, The Hague (ca. 1748-1792), Middelburg (1761, 1764), England (1765), Groningen.

A View of the Wijnstraat, Dordrecht 1745 by Aert Schouman, born 4 March 1710.

Locally Dordrecht is fondly referred to as ‘Dordt’. And thus began the ‘marriage’ between Dordt and its people. They have since been very happy together. In the past, Dordt’s people inherited an appreciation for life which has given them complete confidence in working towards the future. When you take a stroll around this typical Dutch town, it helps to be aware that Dordrecht was the most important and powerful town in Holland until well into the 16th century. Shortly afterwards, Amsterdam, proclaimed the legal capital of the Netherlands in 18ding role.

In 1421 a natural disaster, the St. Elisabethsvloed [St. Elisabeth’s flood], destroyed seventeen villages in the neighborhood. Fifty thousand hectares of land were flooded. In this churning inland sea only Dordrecht survived the force of nature. The flood both destroyed and shaped at the same time. The extensive river and creek area, the Biesbosch, now a National Park, got its freakish appearance at that time. Dordrecht grew to be the most important city of Holland. And although it had to give up this position long ago, footsteps from the history of the Netherlands still echo in the streets. Footsteps of famous citizens of Dordrecht, such as Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt. He governed the powerful merchant state of Holland in the Golden Age for 27 years. His brother Cornelis supported him. There are also footsteps of world famous painters, such as Ary Scheffer, Nicolaes Maes and Aelbert Cuyp. Vincent van Gogh also spent some time in Dordrecht.

In the Hof [Court], which still exists, important history was written. In 1572 during the Spanish rule, it housed the First Assembly of the Free States. All twelve cities of Holland, with the exception of Amsterdam, took part in a secret meeting. They resolved unanimously to turn against the Spanish oppressors. They chose Prince William of Orange as their stadholder. Together with the Union of Dordrecht (1575), in which the constitution was established, the 
is considered to be the beginning of the independent state of the Netherlands. The town also played a prominent part in the church history. In 1618 and 1619 the protestants from all over Europe settled their religious and political quarrels here.

Adam Willaerts (21 July 1577 – 4 April 1664) was a Dutch Golden Age painter. Willaerts (occasionally Willarts, Willers) was born in London to Flemish parents who had fled from Antwerp for religious reasons. By 1585 the family lived in Leiden. From 1597 until his death, Adam lived and died in Utrecht, where he became a member of the Guild of St. Luke in 1611, and subsequently rose to dean in 1620. His sons Cornelis, Abraham, and Isaac followed in his footsteps. He was known as a painter of river and canal pieces, coastal landscapes, fish-markets, processions, and genre scenes. He also painted villages and marine battle scenes.

View of Dordrecht by Adam Willaerts (21 July 1577 – 4 April 1664) a Dutch Golden Age painter.

The National Synod of Dort, a marathon meeting of 180 sessions, led to important social changes. The Calvinist teaching was established and the (enlightened) Remonstrant view was overthrown. The members of the Synod took another far-reaching decision. They had the bible translated into Dutch. This, known as the ‘Statenvertaling’ [State Translation] became the basis for the language which is now written and spoken in the Netherlands.

If you come to Dordrecht it is perhaps a good idea to begin your visit of Dordrecht with “The Groothoofd”(The Large Head). In front of you, stream the imposing rivers: the Merwede and the Oude Maas, which for centuries long have carried on and played an important role in the welfare of the country. Even today this is still the busiest river junction in the world. And despite all this activity, you still get a great feeling of peacefulness from the rivers.
Standing on the friendly square the ‘Groothoofd’, you have one of the best views of Holland and the widest. And in spite of the modern ships, which keep moving on through these mighty rivers, it remains timeless and infinitely beautiful.The rivers not only brought Dordrecht trade, but also an abundance of fish, and 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 ! Once a staple food, salmon is now a delicacy which you will be able to enjoy in one of the stylish Dordrecht restaurants.

Probably the best way to experience Dordrecht is to make a City Walk through the 19th century circular expansion to the inner city, where you will come across scores of unusual things. 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.

Be sure to visit also The Dordrecht Museum, you will find the Dordrechts Museum situated in the historical town center of Dordrecht among the monuments, old inland ports and lively shopping streets. The museum 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 Willaerts in 1629, as you can see below.

Some more suggestions if you visit Dordrecht are:

  • Mr. Simon van Gijn Museum
    An 18th century manor with period rooms, a period kitchen, collections of glassware, pottery, paintings, ship models, and antique toys. Chosen in 2004 as the best small museum of the Netherlands
  • Het Hof
    Featuring the States Hall where, in 1572, William of Orange organized the resistance against the Spanish rulers. It is the birthplace of the Netherlands as an independent nation.
  • The Great Church
    This Late Gothic cruciform church, with its typical tower and beautiful choir stalls, was rebuilt after the great fire of 1457.
  • The Groothoofd
    This gate offers a unique view of the busy river junction with lively terraces on the quays.

If you would like to have more information about Dordrecht, then pay a visit to Dordrecht on the web and visit the local VVV tourist office.

Events and festivals
Dordrecht hosts around 20 cultural and historical events and festivals each year. The city won the title of “Best events city of the year” in 2003 and was nominated for the same title in 2004 and 2005.
Dordt in Stoom (literally: Dordt in steam) is the biggest steam event in Europe during which historical steam trains, steam boats etc. can be seen in action. It is organized every year and attracts a quarter of a million visitors. Attention is also paid to Dordrecht’s art and architecture during Kunstrondje Dordt (literally: Little art circle Dordt) and Dordt Monumenteel (Dordt Monumental), which attracts around 100.000 visitors ever year.
Dordrecht hosts the second largest book market and the largest Christmas market in the Netherlands.

Wantijfestival is an out-doors music festival that has been held annually in the second week of June since 1995. It takes place in the Wantij park and attracts around 35.000 people each year. Wantij park also hosts the Wantijconcerten (Wantij concerts) that are held every Monday night in July and August. Other popular music festivals held in Dordrecht are the World Jazz dagen (World Jazz days) held annually in August or September, the Dancetour or Boulevard of Dance, which takes place on Queensday, Big Rivers Festival, a film, music, poetry and theatre festival held in June, and the Cello festival, held every four years in the weekend of the Ascension.

Dordrecht’s annual fun fair is among the highest-ranked in the Netherlands and the International Puppet festival, held in June, includes performances from artists from all over the world, including Italy, Germany, Taiwan, Israel and the US.

During Carnaval, Dordrecht is called Ooi- en Ramsgat (Ewe’s and Ram’s hole), and its inhabitants are Schapenkoppen (Sheepheads). This name originates from an old folk story. Import of meat or cattle was taxed in the 17th century. To avoid having to pay, two men dressed up a sheep they had bought outside the city walls, attempting to disguise it as a man. The sheep was discovered because it bleated as the three men (two men and one sheep) passed through the city wall gate. There is a special monument of a man and his son trying to hold a sheep disguised as a man between them, that refers to this legend. The logo of Dordrecht’s professional football club FC Dordrecht includes the head of a ram and its supporters are known to sing Wij zijn de Dordtse schapenkoppen (we are the Dorsts sheep heads) during matches. There is also a cookie called Schapenkop (sheep head) which is a specialty of Dordrecht.

There are many more legends about Dordrecht. One of them is about Saint Sura, a young woman who planned on building an entire church with only three coins in her purse. She was murdered because of her supposed wealth.

Another legend is about the house called de Onbeschaamde (the Unembarrassed). It is about the three brothers Van Beveren who each wanted to build a house and decided to hold a bet on who dared to place the most risky statue on their façade. One of the brothers, Abraham van Beveren, placed a naked little boy on his façade. However, the house that supposedly won has an empty façade today because, according to the story, the statue was so risky that it was removed.

A well known saying about Dordrecht is “Hoe dichter bij Dordt, hoe rotter het wordt” (the closer to Dordrecht, the more rotten it gets). The previous mayor Noorland added to that; “maar ben je er eenmaal in, dan heb je het prima naar je zin” (but once you’re in it, you’re perfectly content). The saying can probably be explained as follows; traffic used to go by water and whoever came close to Dordrecht was obliged, according to staple right, to display their merchandise for a couple of days before being allowed to sail on. This caused loss of time and caused products to become rotten. Another explanation is derived from Bommel is rommel, bij Tiel is niet viel en hoe dichter bij Dordt hoe rotter het wordt which is supposed to be said by farmers describing the bad quality of the land close to the rivers Maas and Waal, only suitable for harvesting reed.

The Sliedrechtse Biesbosch, east of Dordrecht, and the Dordtse Biesbosch, south of Dordrecht, together form the Hollandse Biesbosch which is a part of the national park the Biesbosch, one of the largest national parks in the Netherlands and one of the last freshwater tide areas in Europe. The Dordtse Biesbosch has several recreational areas that are used for walking, rowing and swimming.

Dordts is a dialect of Dutch traditionally spoken by the working class of Dordrecht. It is categorized under the Hollandic accents but also has characteristics of Zeelandic and Brabantian.
Typical features of Dordts are:
Using the diminutive suffix -ie or -tie in cases where standard Dutch uses -je. (e.g. Standard Dutch: appeltje (“little apple”) Dordts: appeltie)
Words borrowed from Brabantian such as akkerdere (“lit. to knock or to fit, fig. “to get along”)

The Dutch diphthongs ei and ui tend to be pronounced more like èè and öö. Recently, the ei-sound has started to be pronounced more like ai.
In the 20th century, Dordts has slowly started to disappear as more and more people have started speaking standard Dutch. The strongest Dorts dialect is nowadays found in the working class neighborhoods bordering the city centre.

I hope (I know) you will enjoy your visit !!
Cees Kloosterman

Source 3D photo: 

3D reconstruction of Dordrecht 1425 made by Zock Design, published here (06-02-2020) with permission of Per Bos, Zock Design, Dordrecht

Other photo’s:

  • Wikimedia Commons. The work of art depicted in these images and the reproduction thereof are in the public domain worldwide. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
  • Cees Kloosterman