Our next port was Dordrecht, the oldest city in Holland i.e. the combined provinces of North and South Holland. The city is located in South Holland.
Dordrecht was granted city rights in 1220. It was traditionally an important city for trade in wood. grain and wine. One can still see the history of that wealth and culture today in buildings facilities. There are over 1000 monuments, many of which are now restaurants, theatres and museums.
Originally, as many of the citizens in earlier centuries were illiterate, buildings and streets were named using names of vegetable, drinks or other goods sold in a particular street or area. Merchants’ homes from the 17th and 18th centuries are still to be found on the quays and harbour walls around the city.
A beautifully decorated home
Dordrecht was founded on land where 4 rivers, the Merwede, the Noord, the Waal and the Oude Maas, meet. Unlike many Dutch cities, Dordrecht has harbours rather than canals, created in the 13th century, due to the flourishing trade in the city. Goods traded were vegetables, fish, grain, wine and spices. As most people were illiterate in the Middle Ages the names of streets were allocated according to what was traded there. Another means for this communication was to put emblems on the houses of the specific traders.
When the ships came into the harbour, young boys called carry-boys, would rush down to the quay and help unload and take the goods to the relevant trading house. Down a very narrow street there was a brass bell, hanging high up on the right wall, which was rung when there was a ship to be unloaded and the young boys all came running. After several years the Council decreed that the barrows that the boys used were damaging the roads and were no longer to be used. The boys found other innovative ways of doing their work, the popular of which was to carry it on poles carried on their shoulders or shared between them. This continued until the swamps in the area were drained and Rotterdam was built and became the main harbour of the Netherlands.
The Grand Gate is built into a beautiful building and, on going through the gate, one can access the Old City.
The skyline is dominated by 2 towers – an old water tower and a church tower which houses the heaviest bell in Europe. There is no spire as the ground was too soft to hold this. In fact, the tower itself is already leaning.
As we walked around the city we passed the smallest house in the city, just 6 feet wide. We also saw a statue of William III of Orange, Prince of Holland and King William I of England, Scotland and Ireland. With him is a dog called Pompey and, legend has it, during a campaign against the Spanish, Pompey thwarted an assassination attempt. Along the street from the statue was a large state school, built in 1913, with a very stately looking entrance.
It is well known that The Netherlands has produced a number of artists, some very well-known and others very much unknown. The first whom we ‘met’ was Ary or Arij Scheffer, a citizen of Dordrecht, who stands high on a platform in Arij Scheffer Square. This statue was designed by his daughter as she remembered him when he was painting. He did most of his painting in Paris for the elite until the Revolution when they lost power. His romanticist-style never really caught on in The Netherlands. Another was Ferdinand Bol, a 17th Century painter, etcher and draughtsman whose work resembled that of Rembrandt. Aelbert Cuyp, the 3rd artist we saw, also lived in 17th Century and was known for painting landscapes.
Then there were 2 brothers, Johan and Cornelis de Witt, who were historical figures who were not very popular. Johan was appointed as the Grand Pensionary or stand in leader of the Province of Holland as, when Prince William III ascended the throne he was still a minor. One of his first successes was to pit France and England against each other but this backfired on him when England invaded The Netherlands in 1672. By then, William was old enough and became Prince William III of Orange and what was known as the Stadsholder, which is what the people wanted. His brother was also unpopular as, while in the armed forces, it was rumoured that he wished to kill William. Although there was no proof of this, the brothers were forced out of prison and brutally lynched. All 4 of these men have been immortalized on a wall on the Voorstraathaven.
Downtown there were many modern businesses in well-maintained old buildings. These included the Apple shop AMAC, Alexander Roodfeld makers of luxury men’s clothing for 92 years, Nedgame, a video gaming shop, a Travel Store and even a KFC!
As we made our way back to the boat, we passed the entrance to the Mint and the City Hall and finished by walking through the Courtyard of the Monastery of St Augustine.
We arrived at the boat at 11:15 and soon after set sail for Rotterdam where we spent the afternoon. There were no organised walks of this city so the 2 of us went in by ourselves. We walked slowly down a couple of streets and unexpectedly arrived at a small garden with a memorial outside a church. Trevor walked on to take some photos while I took a closer look at the memorial garden which had a cross, a stone plaque and a flame. The words on the cross in Dutch are Voor hen die Vielen which translate to For the Fallen. From the plaque I could tell that it was to do with WW2 as there was a date of 3 April 1945 and a list of names.
While I did this, there were 2 men standing chatting on the corner outside the church which we learnt was St Lambertus RC Church. When one of the gentlemen left, I asked the other about the memorial and he told me the story.
There was a police station a short distance from the church and during the war one policeman was a Nazi sympathiser and traitor. on 31 March 1945, members of the Dutch Resistance shot the policeman at that spot as he rode past on his bike. Three days later, on 3 April, 20 members of the Dutch Resistance were rounded up, made to lie down in the same place and were shot. Just before their murder, the priest was permitted to grant them General Absolution but he was permitted to do this only from an upstairs window. No one was allowed in the street at the time.
As we talked, Trevor returned and met the gentleman who introduced himself as Willem, the church historian. We asked him where we might find a shop selling fridge magnets and he offered to walk there with us. On the way, he told us a lot of the history of Rotterdam and how it had developed into this large and extremely busy port. It was so interesting to learn these things from a resident who was also an historian. When we reached the main shopping street of the city, he had to leave us and we thanked him for taking the time to give us personal information of the city and not a formal guided tour.
These were some of the things we saw as we walked into town with Willem. Below are photos taken fromt he boat in the harbour.
Unfortunately we could not find a suitable shop so just enjoyed discovering some side streets and small shops before returning to our boat.