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People who set foot on the Dom Cathedral Square for the first time are often left speechless at this place where the city’s long history is so very tangible. And it's hard to imagine that many years ago, it must have been even more spectacular. In the 11th century the Lofen imperial palace cast its splendour over this very spot, but in 1253 a massive fire, which lasted an amazing nine days, ruined many of the surrounding buildings, including Lofen. Therefore, there’s not much left of its original glory these days, although you can still see some magnificent fragments of its glorious past in the underground cellar of the Walden restaurant.
In 2010 the Dom Square Treasury was established among the ruins of Roman habitation underground. Where Roman soldiers used to guard the northern border of their empire at Castellum Traiectum (as Utrecht was known back then), the city's illustrious past is now brought to life. 2000 years of history can be experienced in the Dom Square Treasury, or Schatkamer Domplein, in the medieval cellars underneath the square. A stone wall tells its story in front of an audience with modern audio-visual techniques and visitors can browse through the past and the future of the square on their own. One of the attractions of this one and a half hour tour is the Roman wall, of which large parts were discovered during renovations. In 2013 a second Treasure Chamber will open underneath the square between the Tower and Dom Cathedral. Tickets to the Treasury Domplein are sold at the Tourist Information Office.
Above ground Dom Cathedral Square also has a lot to offer. If you enjoy good food and a few drinks, you'll definitely appreciate the variety of bars and restaurants available here and because many establishments have glass walls, a good view of the cathedral is never far away. The enviable location on this lovely square make the cosy terraces of restaurants Asia de Cuba, Domplein, Lofen and Walden excellent places to have a drink or a bite to eat. Whether you fancy an international tapas dish, a Dutch treat like oven baked pears or a Belgian trappist beer: these bars and restaurants have it covered.
At the end of this strip of bohemian bars and restaurants, you'll find the busiest building on Dom Cathedral Square. This centrally located VVV (Tourist Information Office) is well equipped with brochures, entertainment, plenty of maps, informative booklets and souvenirs. Utrecht even has its own beer and a great collection of amusing products based on the city’s most famous daughter, Nijntje, the main character in the books by local author Dick Bruna, which are immensely popular with Dutch toddlers.
The VVV is also the starting point for many city walking tours and guided excursions, not to mention a distribution point for this guide.
But you haven't been to Utrecht until you've climbed the Dom Cathedral Tower. This 600-year-old building has a long and storied past. Its majestic exterior is a shining example of Utrecht's former status as the centre of an important international religious network. Construction of the Gothic St. Martin's Cathedral began in 1284 and took almost 250 years to complete. Over the centuries it replaced a previously existing Romanesque cathedral piece by piece. But a bizarre act of God would also be its undoing. In 1674 Utrecht was hit by a freak tornado and the nave of the cathedral collapsed. The last of the debris wasn't cleared away until 1826. Although the city fathers even considered demolishing the church completely, it was eventually restored several times during the 19th and 20th centuries. Church services are held on Sundays (10:30 and 19:00), Mondays (07:00) and Wednesdays (19:00); on weekdays there’s a also a regular noon prayer service (12:30). If you'd like to behold the most beautiful views of Utrecht from atop the Dom Tower, you'll first have to suffer some serious physical exertion. No less than 465 steps will take you from the entrance to the observation platform. Tickets to the tower are sold at the Tourist Information Office.
The long wall
The square’s best kept secret is hidden behind the long wall between the Dom and the Academia building: the Dom’s Pandhof (courtyard). It's a medieval covered cloister set around an open courtyard, which literally takes your breath away. This ornamental garden with more than 140 different kinds of plants and herbs is a treat foe the senses and a soothing and comforting oasis in the middle of a hectic, but very addictive city.