Mysteries of Utrecht #3: The Wharf cellars

We all know Utrecht is ridiculously pretty. We gaze upon its beauty every single day. At a certain point you just get spoiled by the gorgeous canals and the beautiful houses. The world recognizes Utrecht by its canals. In 2015, the Australian website News.com.au said Utrecht has the most beautiful canals in the world. Utrecht beats Venice, Brugge, St. Petersburg and Amsterdam when it comes to the canals.

What makes the canals in Utrecht so special?

One thing in particular makes Utrecht stand out; their famous wharf cellars. Utrecht is the only city in the world who has these. These wharf cellars make Utrecht unique. But why are these cellars so special?

The first wharf cellars were made in 1150 and therefor extremely old. This day Utrecht counts 732 (!) of these cellars. Right now, you know them mainly as restaurants, shops, or if you’re very lucky, your house. But originally, they were used for storage. It was a very smart and easy way to supply Utrecht with its every need.

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The first cellar was made by an unknown businessman who originally wanted to create a tunnel from his home cellar to the canals of Utrecht. Others took over this idea and the tunnels were getting wider and wider and that’s how the cellars turned into storages. The cellars were very convenient and saved a lot of carrying and lifting.

These cellars and canals created the middle-aged city harbour of Utrecht.

Why did no other city used this concept??

The water level in Utrecht is exceptionally low. This is because of a dam in the river Rijn close to Wijk van Duurstede (A neighbourhood in Utrecht).

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The evolution of the canals and wharfs

‘Till the end of the nineteenth century, the wharfs in Utrecht were extremely important. But when the traffic on land became more evolved and more important, the wharfs were of no use anymore and became neglected. This happened because all the cellars had different owners. The cellars were part of the home and renovating them was very hard and really expensive. This was because you would have to work the wharfs too.

After the second world war, in 1948, the city of Utrecht got ownership of the wharfs and started renovating the wharfs, which made it much more attractive for owners to clean up the cellars. This is how Utrecht’s canals became the most beautiful in the world.

The renovation of today

You might have noticed that they’re still working on the canals. In 2009, Utrecht decided to renovate the canals once more. They had to be restored, but remain the same feeling of the good ol’ days. The City council decided to put 35 million euros into the renovation, but right now the costs have gone up to 47,5 million (!). That seems excessive, but hey… If you want to be and stay the beautiful canal city in the world, you have to be willing to pay a little…

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Modern use of a wharf cellar, on the inside. The canal can be seen on the outside.
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