When I say Holland, you will probably think of Amsterdam. Some of you might also know about Rotterdam or The Hague, but let’s face it: most won’t really know about the rest of the Netherlands. It’s a shame really, because there are a ton of lovely little cities across the country. One of those lovely little cities is Dordrecht, a true historic gem.
Exploring Dordrecht: Oldest City in Holland
The Beginnings of Dordrecht
Dordrecht, or ‘Dordt’, is a town in the province of South Holland, the Netherlands. Dordrecht has a rich cultural history and is considered to be the oldest city in Holland (the provinces of North-Holland and South-Holland). First mention of the town stems from 1120 and Dordrecht officially received city rights in 1220. You can find over 950 monuments, 7 churches, and 6 museums in the medieval city centre alone. The city centre and municipality are situated on the Dordrecht Island (Het Eiland van Dordt). Interestingly, the city was never an island from the very beginning. Dordrecht became an island after the disastrous Saint Elisabeth flood of November 1421.
Picture-perfect Bridges and Canals
The island of Dordrecht is also known for its beautiful network of old canals. In fact, the name ‘Dordrecht’ most likely originates from an older Dutch word meaning ‘thoroughfare’ (Thuredrecht). Some argue this word stems from the city’s history as a major European trade port, where ‘thoroughfare’* would refer to the canals where ships used to be pulled through. The ships needed to pass through the canals to get from one river to another. When I was exploring the centre of town and crossing countless of quaint little bridges, Dordrecht even reminded me a little bit of a Dutchified Venice! Just ducks though, no gondoliers.
The Animal Kingdom in Dordrecht
What I especially liked about Dordrecht is that animals seemed to be everywhere! Not real ones, unfortunately, but there were countless of cool statues and cute store signs hanging from the renaissance style Dordtse gevels (Dordtian facades). Lions, swans, cows, elephants…you name it. Those interesting-looking door knockers can be found throughout the old town. That roaring lion statue is part of the Dordrecht city hall, which I tell you about in the next section!
Take a moment for the Monuments: Dordrecht City Hall
One of the most noticeable structures in Dordrecht is the city hall (stadhuis) on Stadhuisplein. The stadhuis was first built in 1383. It is now a renaissance building in neoclassic style, decorated with large columns and impressive lion statues. The building was initially a cloth hall, but later became a city hall in 1544. The neoclassic decorations are characteristic of the late medieval period, inspired by new architectural trends in Amsterdam. The city hall continues to be the seat of the seat of the city’s government and it is a popular place for civic wedding ceremonies among local residents.
A must-see for your city trip: The Grote Kerk
The Grote Kerk, officially the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe-Kerk (‘Our Dear Lady Church’), belongs to the Dutch Top 100 of UNESCO monuments and is probably the most iconic building in Dordrecht. The church was constructed between 1285 and 1470 and has a 65 m tower with 67 bells. The heaviest bell weighs 9830 kilos, which even makes it the heaviest bell in the Netherlands. The tower itself is actually slightly crooked. Just like the Tower of Pisa, this crookedness is caused by the soft and swampy soil underneath the building. I also wanted to explore the inside of the church, but there was a wedding ceremony going on, so I decided not to crash the party!
I visited Dordrecht on a pleasant summer’s day in August earlier this year. Dordrecht has always been a beautiful city, but I was still surprised by the incredible appeal of the charming canals and rows of historic little houses. If I were to describe Dordrecht in the least amount of words, it would be “delightfully charming”. If you ever decide to take a trip to Holland, you definitely shouldn’t miss out on a visit to Dordrecht!