July 16 – Amersfoort
A week ago we did a walking tour of Bremen together. Since today, all we did was roam and take in the sights and stories of Amersfoort, I thought we could share another tour together. So, if you’d like to see a bit of Amersfoort, through some pictures, let’s take another tour…let’s have a look around Amersfoort together.
Around the edges of Amersfoort, you’ll see the modern day city, with lanes of traffic, but inside, almost like a village within the fast paced outer city, is the Old Town, with its history, cobbled streets, historic buildings and a touch of quaintness around every corner. Let’s go there.
As you walk into the historic centre of Amersfoort, you pass through Koppelpoort, the land and water gate dating from the 1400’s and what was part of the second old city wall. In 1400 this is where you would enter the city and travellers could be either admitted or refused entrance to the town at this point, whether they were travelling on land or by water. At that time, the water levels of the town could also be regulated and that was done with the power of prisoners. Twelve prisoners would tread on steps to operate a winch that would lower the bulkhead. This could shut off the river to control the level of water inside the city walls. Sitting above the arch over the water you’ll see a wooden addition and this was used to pour hot oil over attackers if they came too close to the gate.
Through the Koppelpoort, we’re inside the old city walls. Now we’ll turn down a pretty, narrow cobbled street, lined with houses. These are the Muurhuizen, or “Wall Houses” that were built on the foundations of the old city walls. This part of the city walls was demolished in the 15th century and the bricks were used to build some of the houses along this street. The street curves, following the line of the original wall.
Let’s keep following the cobbled streets back towards the edges of the Old Town, out of the the built environment and towards the natural. We’ll pass by part of the city’s defences and the remains of the old city walls. In the 14th century the city was expanded and it was decided that a second wall was needed and we can see some of the remains of that as we walk towards a park.
Walking through the park, the Plantsoen, we walk beside a canal, with a small bridge and house sitting above the water. In order to raise money to create the Plantsoen, land was sold to build villas. Some of those stately homes have been preserved and the white house is one of those. The bridge was once a wooden bridge dating from 1848 but in 1902 it was replaced with the metal one that’s there now.
This is a lovely park, so it’s the perfect place to stop for elevenses.
Continuing on through the park we can see another part of the old city walls, the Monnikendam, or the watergate, from the 1400’s. This was another gate into the old city, like the Koppelpoort, but while that was used to regulate land and water entry, the Monnikendam was only for water entries to the city. A gate in the arch could also be shut to control the flow of water.
We’ll make our way back onto the streets now and towards the central square. Getting there, we’ll duck into a small court where we’ll see the Almshouses. In 1307 there was a brotherhood who cared for the poor by handing out food and nursing those suffering from the plague. Those with the plague weren’t allowed into the city and had to stay in houses inside the court and the churchyard within the court was used to bury the victims. If there was no plague epidemic, people were allowed to live in the houses for free. The court of almshouses that we see today were developed in 1879-1904 and were intended as housing for the poor and elderly.
Back towards the centre of the old city, if you look up, you will see the Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren, a hundred metre tall tower and its steeple dominates the skyline. Construction began in 1444 and was finished around 1500 and to stand near its base, you almost get a crick in your neck looking up to see the top.
It is impressive in its height and has actually been used as the central point of the Dutch grid reference system. It has its own story to tell and it starts with “the miracle of Amersfoort”. The “miracle” was the reason it was constructed. This is the story of “the Amersfoort miracle” as told on an information panel.
On December 24, 1444, sixteen year old Geertge Arents from Nijkerk wanted to enter St Agnes’ monastery. She had a simple statue of the Virgin Mary with her. When she arrived at the Kamperbuitenpoort, one of the city gates, she threw the statue into a hole in the ice in one of the frozen canals because she felt ashamed of having the statue with her. On Christmas Eve, a certain Margriet Albery Giesendochter had a dream in which she was ordered to obtain a statue from the above mentioned canal. The next morning, while drawing water from a canal, she found the statue lying under the ice. When arriving home, she lit a candle in front of the statue and what struck her most was that the candle burnt three times longer that it would normally do. She told this to her confessor Jan van Schoonhoven who took the statue home with him. As a result of the numerous miracles that occurred there, he at last placed the statue at Our Lady’s Chapel at St Stephen’s on December 26. The number of miracles resulted in an enormous flow of believers who expected to be cured of their diseases.
So there you go, that’s the “Amersfoort miracle” and because of that, this huge tower was built. Maybe, I thought, it stands as a monument to that most celebrated of candles that apparently kept on burning when most candles would have turned to a squidgy puddle of wax. It’s the right shape for it. But no, this is not a lofty great candle but was constructed to apparently symbolise the Mother of God. Whatever it is, it’s an awfully big tower that took an awfully long time to build, all because of Miss Giesendochter’s candle!
The tower sits at the end of a central square, lined with cafes and we can walk through here, into the cobbled streets to see more open squares and old buildings, some of them wonderfully wonky, seemingly leaning on each other to hold themselves up.
As we walk along the street, we’ll pass through Kamperbinnenpoort, the only gate that has been preserved of the first, original city wall.
Sitting on its own, on a corner of a street, you will see something of an odd piece of Amersfoort history. Amongst the combination of old, historic streets and the modern outer edges of the city, sits a rock. This is The Boulder. This piece of granite travelled as part of a glacier, from Scandinavia to Amersfoort. It was first mentioned in government documentation in 1545 and it has a curious story surrounding it. The Squire at the time found the boulder on the outskirts of the city and bet a friend that he could get people of the town to, crazy as it was, drag that huge boulder into the city. He won the bet, when four hundred citizens of Amersfoort dragged that rock into the city after the Squire served them a whole lot of beer! After enjoying their brew, they enthusiastically hauled the rock into the city, where they were soundly ridiculed and continued to be laughed at for years. Living with the embarrassment, they decided to bury the boulder, where it stayed until 1903 at which time it was dug up again, placed on a plinth and displayed as an object of pride! Oh, the highs and lows of the life of a rock!
OK, we’ve roamed hither and thither, so let’s find a place for a spot of lunch. We’ll pick up some bits and pieces for a make-do picnic and head out towards another park. Park Randenbroek was once an estate and the medieval house still stands within its grounds. The park has been listed as a national monument and it’s a lovely place with a mixture of open spaces, meandering paths beside a canal, stately trees and water birds. The perfect spot to sit on a bench, enjoy a bit of nature within the city and have a lunch break.
From there we can roam back into the city, along the medieval streets, stepping across cobbles, to round out the day with a relaxed sit in the square, at the base of the tower, watching the passing parade of people and cyclists, while enjoying a brew of either the cuppa or foaming variety.
Well, there ends our walking tour of Amersfoort. It’s a lovely place with a gorgeous old town. “It’s our kind of place,” was Steve’s comment. Yes it is. It is small, quaint, quirky and historic, a place with stories and something interesting around every corner. It was well worth the stop over to have time for a longer roam and look around and it was another of those little gems that we’re glad we found. So, a slightly different blog post today, but I hope you enjoyed taking a stroll through Amersfoort with us. Tomorrow you can join us on two wheels again as we pedal off, exploring some more, with town and country around us, to see what else we can discover. We are loving our time in The Netherlands and it is giving us delights a plenty, with so many lovely places to see and visit and wonderful scenery to pedal past and through, so…onward tomorrow to continue the discoveries. Sounds champion to me!
Distance ridden: 0 km
Distance roamed: 10.2 km
Weather: grey, cool, then a bit warmer, no rain and eventually got to 18C at about 6 pm