A brief history of Utrecht


47 AD – Castellum Traiectum
Around the start of the Common Era, the Romans expand their empire to the Rhine delta and the areas along the Elbe. In the year 47 AD, Roman emperor Claudius decides that the River Rhine is to become the northern border of the empire. The border, also called Limes, is protected with fortresses. At a fordable place along the Rhine they build the Castellum Traiectum, which will later become Utrecht.
AD 695 - Willibrord arrives in Utrecht
In 695 the Anglo-Saxon missionary Willibrord settles in Utrecht. Here he helps build a stone church which he dedicates to St. Martin and founds a second church, the St. Salvator. Willibrord, who had been initiated as Bishop of the Frisians by Pope Sergius I, now tries to convert Frisians while in Utrecht. As a cathedral city Utrecht later grew to be the most important ecclesiastical centre of the northern Netherlands.
857 AD – Vikings attack Utrecht
In 857 AD Vikings reach Utrecht during a pillaging journey. During their attack they destroy the town’s gates and walls, and they kill civilians and clergymen at the bishop’s court. The bishop himself narrowly escapes to the Frankish king Lothar. The Vikings use Utrecht as base of operation for plundering the city’s surroundings.
1122 – Holy Roman Emperor Henry V grants Utrecht a charter
In 1122, Holy Roman Emperor Henry V visits Utrecht to confer with nobles and clergymen. A few days after Whitsunday, fatal clashes arise between the emperor’s guards and the servants of Bishop Godebald of Utrecht. Henry imprisons Godebald and lets Utrecht's inhabitants take an oath of loyalty. In exchange he grants the city a charter.
1254 – Beginnings of the Dom Church
In 1253 the Romanesque Dom Church was heavily damaged by a large town fire. The Dom chapter chooses not to renovate and instead decides to build a new Gothic cathedral. In 1254 Bishop Hendrik van Vianden placed the first stone of the new Dom Church. Construction is subsidised by, amongst other sources, Pope Clement’s granted indulgences. After the choir, the tower and the transept are built a lack of funds brings building to a halt. The Dom is finally completed in 1520.
1529 – Construction of Vredenburg
After Holy Roman Emperor Charles V conquers the Utrecht bishopric in 1528, he commissions the city’s inhabitants to build Vredenburg. This castle built under coercion was meant to keep the citizens of Utrecht under control, as well as to better protect the area against the Duke of Guelders. Spanish troops leave the castle in 1577 after being beleaguered by Dutch rebels. It is then destroyed by the people of Utrecht who feared the Spanish might return.
1579 – Union of Utrecht
On 23 January the signing of the Union of Utrecht took place in the charter hall of the Dom of Utrecht. In this treaty, which was a reaction to the Union of Atrecht, a number of towns and districts – including Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, Gent and Bruges – agree to march against the Spaniards. Moreover, the agreement settled some disputes in the fields of religion, defence and taxes; thus it can also be seen as the first version of a constitution.
1636 – The founding of Utrecht University
While the first plans for the foundation of a university in Utrecht stem from the late fifteenth century, it is only in the 17th century that the city council takes action. In 1632 the city council founds an ‘illustrious school’, which is proclaimed to be an academy four years later. Theologian Voetius and lawyer Antonius Matthaeus are the first professors of the new university. In 1642 an observatory becomes part of the university, which makes Utrecht, after Leiden, the oldest university in the world with an observatory.
1713 – The Treaty of Utrecht
The Treaty of Utrecht was concluded on 11 April 1713 and marked a critical moment in the history of Europe and Utrecht. This brought an end to a series of devastating wars that had claimed many millions of lives over a period of two centuries. The Treaty of Utrecht is regarded as an important event that paved the way for European cooperation and conflict management – a forerunner to today’s European Union and United Nations.
1807 – Palace of Louis Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte comes to power in 1802 and in 1806 he appoints his brother Louis Bonaparte as king of Holland. As Louis doesn't enjoy The Hague he moves his residency to Utrecht in 1807. After the necessary houses have been purchased, palace construction begins, which Louis will later occupies in 1808. A year after that, he heads off to Amsterdam. Today the building is used as the University Library.
1945 – Utrecht Liberation
On 2 May the news of Hitler’s death is spread and on 4 May illegal underground radio reports that the Netherlands has been liberated. Many inhabitants of Utrecht go out onto the streets, but German soldiers shoo people back inside by shooting. While the German commander refuses to acknowledge the capitulation, British and Canadian troops enter Utrecht on 7 May, where they are greeted by rejoicing crowds.
1973 – Opening Hoog Catharijne Shopping Centre
In 1962 the local council decides that the old station neighbourhood does not adhere to the needs of modern traffic and asks the company Empeo for advice. Together with the council, Empeo draws up a plan for a new, raised station square with shops, residences, offices and parking garages. After an understanding is reached with Dutch Railways (NS), construction of a new centre is begun. In 1973 Hoog Catharijne – now the oldest example of a shopping and office centre in the Netherlands – is officially opened by Princess Beatrix.

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