Just around the corner

We only stayed one day, coming by train in the early morning then back across the Maas after dark. Dordrecht, historic port south of Rotterdam on the way to Belgium. The trains pass through and the trucks roar along the highway. But this old port on the Oude Maas is an island really, with a long history of trade and seafaring, and was indeed the capital of Holland in the 11th Century. There’s a fascinating history of the city, its history and the geography of the surrounding area here at Geerts.com.

Dordrecht street

Shopping in old Dordrecht

Some claim it as the oldest city of Holland, and also the residence of the Counts of Holland for 200 years (1008-1203). Its surrounding land gives the origin of the name “Holland” – the earliest spelling is Hollandt meaning low-lying-land (hol = hollow), a derivation equally applicable to the district in Lincolnshire (UK) which bears the same name.

Today’s Netherlands was in ancient times part of the swampy estuaries situated between Bruges in Flanders and the long independent tribe of Frisons (Frisians) in the north (today’s Groningen, Friesland and parts of northern Germany). The land and water interacted over thousands of years, with floods, alluvial deposits, sea-level rises and falls.

During the so called 3rd Dunkirk transgression (200 to about 1000 CE) large parts of were 2/3 below sea level and uninhabited, except some small islands along the North-Sea coast. From about 950 AD the sea-level decreased and the existing islands slowly increased in land mass and became inhabitable.

Lowlands Map

The Lowlands 1000 years ago

In the 10th century the area around Dordrecht became an island just above water level on the edge of the North-Sea, with access inland via the Maas (Meuse) River and thus became an important trading centre between England and the European hinterland, as far as Germany by river.

The map at right illustrates its geographic importance.

The Counts of Ghent in Flanders, aware of its important position, disputed control with the Bishop of Utrecht, who at that time used the area as a food-source for fishery and claimed it as part of the Diocese.

The first Count of West Frisia (read the islands of Zeeland, South-Holland and North-Holland), Dirk III (993-1039) entrenched himself in 1008, the beginning of the County of Holland and its celebrated capital Dordrecht. During the 10th to the 13th century many wars broke out between the young County of Holland and the Bishops of Utrecht with their allies. Finally the capital was moved to s’Gravenhage (Den Haag) in the late 1200s – that city having originated as the Counts’ hunting lodge.

There’s a lot more fascinating and intricate history, but when we visited – for just that one day – we could only take in so much. There was the Minster (the cathedral, originally part of a monastery), the historic harbour and museum, the remaining sea gate or Poort, great little cafes, lunch in the Grote Markt, and several intriguing second-hand shops.


On a corner in Dordrecht

The city had a slow-paced and friendly feel to it, more relaxed and a bit less Dutch than say Rotterdam or Leiden. It was a cool but sunny day and we saw most of the sights, but regretted not staying longer and hiring bikes to ride out to the Merwelanden and the Biesbosch, a vast National Park to the East. Maybe next time?

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