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Winter in Dordrecht

Grote Kerk Dordrecht seen from the Nieuwe Haven

For the Dutch text: Winter in Dordrecht

Dordrecht is beautiful in every season, but under a snow blanket the old buildings of the city evoke a fairy-like atmosphere.

Grote Kerk seen from Grotekerksbuurt
Grote Kerk seen from the Lange Ijzeren Brug

Legend of Sura - The Miracle of the Grote Kerk

The Grote Kerk (Big Church) of Dordrecht was built in the Middle Ages, probably in the 12th or 13th century. According to a legend it happened commissioned by the girl Sura. She would personally have received the message from Mary to found the sanctuary. However, money seemed to be the main problem. Sura just had three coins, with which she could only pay a single daily wage for three workers. But a miracle happened! Three new copper pieces appeared in her purse every day and the construction of the Grote Kerk could continue.

The workers realized that there was apparently a lot of money to be obtained from Sura. On an evil day, they decided to kill her in order to appropriate her mysterious income. But after the crime, there was not any other copper coin to be found. The killers were arrested and sentenced to death, but the story is not over yet. Legend has it that Sura rose from the dead to plead the criminals free. She travelled with them to Rome. Once there, she went to the Pope to ask for absolution. The murderers were forgiven and Sura received enough indulgences to pay for the further construction of the church.

Eventually Sura died an old woman and she was posthumously declared a saint. A special detail is that a source spontaneously originated at the site of the murder of St. Sura. That source actually existed until the 16th century.

Clockworks on top of the blunt tower

Bell Tower

It is striking that the church in Dordrecht is skewed. In 1440, approval was granted for the construction of a spire, but due to the weak soil, the tower began to subside and the spire was never completed. It was finally decided to place four clockworks on top of the blunt tower.

At set times the most beautiful carillon concerts sound over the island of Dordrecht. The city carillonneurs play on the largest carillon in Europe. At the end of the 1990s, huge bells were hung in the tower of the Grote Kerk. There were opponents who were afraid that the church would subside even more, but so far no damage has been reported. And the clocks? They still read every week, 67 in total. The carillon sounds like never before.

Skyline Dordrecht with Groothoofd seen from Zwijndrecht


The Groothoofd is the northernmost point of Dordrecht and provides a beautiful view of the so-called Drierivierenpunt: the busiest water junction in Europe. This is where the river Merwede, Noord and Oude Maas meet. In summer the Groothoofd is full of life on the terraces, in winter it can turn into a mysterious, desolate place.

In the late Middle Ages, the view from the Groothoofd was less beautiful than it is nowadays. Today, pleasure yachts, inland waterway vessels, water buses pass by and one overlooks the rustic Zwijndrecht, but it used to be different. From the so-called Diefsteiger, criminals were taken to the lurid Galgoord, across the river. The death penalty was carried out in Galgoord. The corpses sometimes dangled there for days.

When Dordrecht did not yet have bridges and tunnels, the Groothoofd was the entrance to the island. The strictly guarded Groothoofdspoort provided access to the city in centuries past. The inhabitants of Dordrecht built a dome above the gate, with an image of the Dordrecht city maiden in the wall. It symbolized the impregnability of the city. Even today, the virgin proudly overlooks the three-river point.

Groothoofd Dordrecht in winter at dusk

Ever since the Middle Ages, the Goothoofd has been an important part of the skyline of Dordrecht. Painters such as Cuyp, Jongkind and even the Englishman Turner captured this special cityscape on paintings and drawings. And dignitaries who beheld the Groothoofd also entered the city through this place.

It is known, for example, that Charles V docked there with his ship in 1540. Just like Napoleon, but he refused to take one step within the city walls. Was he perhaps so overwhelmed by the beauty of the Groothoofd that he would rather stay there? Probably not. The emperor of France simply thought that the dignitaries of Dordrecht should come to him instead of the other way around. Napoleon spent the night in his own ship outside the city, moored along the northernmost tip of Dordrecht.

Dordrecht Skyline Fortunately much of the history has been preserved in Dordrecht. Unfortunately, beautiful buildings have also been demolished, such as the old post office. That still hurts a bit in Dordrecht, but there are more than 1500 monuments and iconic buildings in the city, so plenty to see. The Dordrecht skyline is beautifully situated at the Oude Maas and the old cityscapes such as Kuipershaven, Wolwevershaven and Scheffersplein, as shown below, are very worthwhile.

Kuipershaven, Dok van Straatman

't Hof - Cradle of the Netherlands

't Hof in Dordrecht is one of the most memorable places in Holland's history. Here, in the 16th century, resistance to the Spanish ruler was forged and the cradle of the present-day Netherlands was laid.

On July 19, 1572, representatives from twelve cities met in the Statenzaal of 't Hof. There they convened the First Free States Meeting. The envoys spoke with Marnix van St. Aldegonde, a representative of Prince William of Orange. They decided to support the prince financially and organized the resistance from the Spanish governor Alva from Dordrecht. The battle against the Spaniards had already been going on for four years, with the first success being the Battle of Heiligerlee, but the resistance was officially confirmed at the Hof in Dordrecht. However, none of those present could then suspect that the battle would last until 1648.

Before 1572, 't Hof already had a long history. In 1282 a group of begging monks settled in Dordrecht and built a monastery on the site of the current Court. The building was destroyed by a fire shortly afterwards, but also quickly restored. The Augustinian monks also had a church built on the complex; the Augustijnenkerk, which dates from 1293. Many Dordrecht notables are buried there. The painter Albert Cuyp was also ordered here.

In 1572 the Court mainly served as a meeting room for the guilds. Large parts of the complex were sold after the iconoclasm of 1566. After the First Free States Meeting, the whole was converted into a Prinsenhof. William of Orange was supposed to come and live there, but he chose Delft.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Court fell into disrepair, but in 1969 the city council decided on a renovation. In 1972, exactly 400 years after the First Free States Meeting, a memorial meeting was held. The mayors of the cities of Alkmaar, Edam, Enkhuizen, Gorinchem, Gouda, Haarlem, Hoorn, Leiden, Medemblik, Monnikendam, Oudewater and Dordrecht met again, but this time for a festive meeting. Anyone who visits the Hof today and listens well, still hears very quietly the buzz of twelve cities in revolt. Or would that just be imagination...?

This article appeared in the Stadsleven magazine.

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