The Great History of Utrecht – Part V

We conclude this five-episodes series (in case you missed the previous four, here are parts I, II, III and IV) with an overview on the contemporary history of our beloved Ultraiectum ad Rhenum!

It is not until modern times that the Netherlands became a monarchy. Before 1795, the head of the state was rather a stadtholder, who was a quasi-democratic figure: a noble elected by other peers’ families as a governor-general, or lieutenant if you will, of one or more provinces.

In 1795 however the echoes of the French Revolution reached the Netherlands, and the Batavian Republic was installed by a spontaneous popular rebellion. Nevertheless, this experiment was short lived, and in 1806 the Netherlands had their first monarch, none other than…Napoleon! Well technically his little brother, Louis – or Lodewijk in Dutch. After taking possession of his new dominion and starting to learn the Dutch language (yeah good luck with that!), our Louis found the air of the capital too oppressive for his taste, and he decided to relocate his court in…you guessed it, Utrecht!

Yep hard to believe, but you are (pretending to be) studying in a royal palace

He ordered the construction of a brand new palace on the Drift. Which is nowadays the library where many of us has spent/are spending/will spend sleepless nights! Sure the renewal left us little of the original interiors, except Lodewijk’s secretaire at the entrance, and his name borne by the local café.

After the Napoleonic wars, at the peace of Vienna it was decided that a more powerful and stable Dutch kingdom was actually necessary in order to keep Germany and France sufficiently distant. This is why, under William I of the House of Orange, descendant of the last stadtholder, the Kingdom of the Netherlands took its grander vest, including the current Belgium – which would have however seceded in 1815 – and Luxembourg, which would have done so as well in 1890 once the male bloodline of the Orange-Nassau House was extinct.

For Utrecht the contemporary age was a boom: after more than 150 years the ruins of the Domkerk were finally removed, and the Domplein took its current shape of a fine living room in the city centre. In 1843 the first train connection of the Netherlands linked Utrecht to Amsterdam. Since then our city became a crossway and the most important trains station of the country.

Because of this strategic role, the city was instantly occupied by Germany during their invasion of the Netherlands in WWII. However, the local catholic archbishop De Jong proved to be a staunch opponent of the Nazi doctrine in his sermons, other than helping Jews to escape from deportations. Immediately after the War his contribution was acknowledged by his appointment as Cardinal, and it is in his honour that the namesake Kardinaal de Jongweg crosses today the northern side of this city.

In recent times, the city has seen the merge of its three football teams, DOS, Velox  and USV Elinkwijk in order to create the current FC Utrecht, competing in the Dutch Eeredivisie. And it is precisely in the Elinkwijk where one of the most elegant football player ever moved his first steps: Marco van Basten, also known as the Swan of Utrecht.

Once you are here, you know you are at home

I would like to conclude where it all start for many of us, Utrecht Centraal, nowadays the major railway hub of the country, with more than 285 000 passengers per day. The area surrounding, which witnessed the departure of the Tour de France 2015, is going through a radical requalification, which will see the water flowing again where it once was, on the western side of the binnenstad in what is now Catharijnsingel, and which will make the city centre become again an island. Nearby stands the Rabobank Bestuurscentrum recently built on the Croeselaan: at 105 metres is the second tallest building in the city, respectfully leaving the record to the Domtoren, which keeps towering this magnificent city.

By Claudio Agnesa

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