HistoryAlmost one thousand years ago, the first inhabitants of Dordrecht came to live on the banks of the Thuredrith river. In the early Middle Ages, Dordrecht grew from being a simple settlement into the most powerful mercantile city of Holland. There are many stories to tell about Dordrecht's long history. You can find a few below.
Dordrecht arose in the water-rich area on the banks of the Thuredrith river. The favourable location at an intersection of trade routes, mainly over water, accelerated the development of the city. In 1220, the count of Holland bestowed city rights on a residential area for the first time. This was Dordrecht, the first city of Holland.
Medieval city with 'staple rights'
Dordrecht received more privileges. The most important was the 'stapelrecht' [staple rights]. All ships that transported goods over the water were obliged to store and trade them in Dordrecht. The city grew, first along the raised embankments of the river Thuredrith, which is now the Voorstraatshaven. Later, warehouses and merchants' houses were built on the sandbanks outside of the city. Here, the Nieuwe Haven and the Wolwevershaven were created. The city became prosperous and influential.
Grain, wood, sugar and wine were important commodities. The winding Wijnstraat, the Wijnhaven and the wine warehouses are reminders of the flourishing wine trade. Wine sellers, timber merchants and owners of breweries and sugar refineries lived in prominent houses along the Wijnstraat and Groenmarkt. Along the Voorstraatshaven, there are jetties where ships moored to unload their cargoes.
St. Elisabeth flood
The water brought not only prosperity, it also regularly caused problems: floods and burst dykes. In 1421, disaster struck. The St. Elisabeth flood caused extensive flooding around Dordrecht. Some of this area was later reclaimed and enclosed by dykes, a large area developed into the Biesbosch. The forces of nature changed the landscape for ever, but the city was spared. Trade steadily recovered and attracted merchants and craftsmen from Germany, Flanders and England.
The birth of the Netherlands
Dordrecht also played an important role in the area of politics. In 1572, twelve cities of Holland met in secret in Dordrecht to join forces to resist Spanish rule. They supported William of Orange by funding an army and acknowledged him as their only stadtholder. The First Assembly of the Free States, held in Het Hof, marks the beginning of an independent Dutch state. Dordrecht is the city where The Netherlands was born.
The Dordrecht Synod
The Synod of Dordrecht was held in 1618/1619 to put an end to the religious disputes within the protestant church. The results of this important national synod were the Dordrecht principles and the order to make the first Dutch translation of the bible. This became the Statenbijbel [State Bible] of 1637. The Synod and the authorised translation of the bible have greatly influenced the ecclesiastical and cultural history of the Netherlands and the Dutch language.
The changing city
The staple rights were rescinded, Rotterdam and Amsterdam grew as trading cities. Dordrecht had to abandon its leading position. In the nineteenth century, many ships were still built in the yards along the river. By then, the majority of the city wall had been demolished. The city gates disappeared, bridges appeared made of cast iron and Itz, the city architect, provided the city with buildings in the neoclassical style. The desire to innovate also resulted in demolition in the nineteen sixties. Even so, the city always retained its own (and self-willed) character.
Famous citizens of Dordrecht
Johan and Cornelis De Witt are immortalized in bronze on the Visbrug bridge. They were born in the Grotekerksbuurt. In the seventeenth century, they climbed high on the political ladder, but were murdered by the people. The landscape paintings of Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691) are world famous. He lived and worked his entire life in Dordrecht. Ary Scheffer, born in Dordrecht (1795-1858), became a famous romantic painter in Paris. His statue can be found on the Scheffersplein. In 1864, Simon van Gijn bought a house on the Nieuwe Haven. When he died in 1921, the city inherited his house and his artistic collections.