Utrecht is a municipality and the capital city of the Dutch province Utrecht. It is the fourth largest city of the Netherlands, with a population of 289 000. It has a surface of 99.32 km² whereof 3,64 km² are covered in water. About 68% of the population is Dutch, 9% is Moroccan, 5% is Turkish, 3% Surinamese and 15% of other ethnicities.
Because of its central location, the City of Utrecht is well connected to the rest of the Netherlands and has a well developed public transport network. Regular Intercity trains run to all major Dutch cities and in March 2006 a direct service to Schiphol Airport was installed.
There are four minor railway stations in Utrecht: Utrecht Overvecht (uto), Utrecht Lunetten (utl), Utrecht Terwijde (utt), and Utrecht Zuilen (utzl).
A light-rail (sneltram in Dutch) line runs from the Utrecht Centraal station, through the neighbourhoods of Lombok and Kanaleneiland, to Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.
Utrecht Central railway station also operates as the main local and regional bus station.
Two of the most important major roads cross near Utrecht: the A12 and the A2. Other roads are the A27 and the A28.
Utrecht also has a port located on the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, which is connected to the Rhine river.
Utrecht dates from a Roman wooden fortification around the year 47. The name of the place was Traiectum and the prefix Ultra. Later the names merged and changed into the current name (Utrecht).
In the second century the wooden walls were replaced by sturdier stone walls, remnants of it can still be found below the buildings around the Dom square.
In the middle of the 2nd century Germanic tribes regularly invaded the Roman territories and around 270 the Romans left Utrecht. In the 6th century Utrecht got under the influence of the Franks.
During the Middle Ages Utrecht was the most important city of the Northern Netherlands. Willibrordus is usually considered to be its first bishop. In 695 he was appointed archbishop of the Frisians and in 703 or 704 Pepin II of Herstal handed over Utrecht, which received city rights in 1122.
In 1579 seven northern provinces of the Low Countries signed the Union of Utrecht, in which they decided to join forces against Spanish rule. The Union of Utrecht is seen as the beginning of the Dutch Republic. In 1580 this predominantly Protestant state abolished the bishoprics. Especially after 1870, Utrecht has been the centre of the non-Roman Old Catholic Churches in the world.
In 1843, the railway connecting between Utrecht – Amsterdam was opened. After that, Utrecht gradually became the main hub of the Dutch railway network. With the industrial revolution finally gathering speed in the Netherlands and the ramparts taken down, Utrecht finally began to grow far beyond the medieval center from the 1880s onward with the construction of neighborhoods such as Oudwijk, Wittevrouwen and Vogelenbuurt.
New middle class residential areas, such as Tuindorp and Oog in Al, were built in the 1920s and 1930s.
During World War II, Utrecht was held by the Germans until the general German surrender of the Netherlands on 5 May 1945. Canadian troops entered the city on May 7, 1945.
Since World War II, the city has grown considerably when new neighbourhoods such as Overvecht, Kanaleneiland, Hoograven, Lunetten, and (recently) Leidsche Rijn were built.
Sights to see in the Utrecht area
Utrecht is famous for the Dom Tower of Utrecht, belonging to the former cathedral (Dom Church), and for the canal structure in the inner city. The inner city has largely retained its Medieval structure. Due to the importance of Utrecht as a religious centre in the past, several monumental churches have survived, such as the Romanesque St Peter’s and St John’s churches, and the gothic churches of St Jacob and St Nicholas, and the so-called Buurkerk, now converted into a museum.
Utrecht is the center of the Dutch railroad network and the location of the head office of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways). NS’s former head office ‘De Inktpot’ in Utrecht is the largest brick building in the Netherlands (the “UFO” gracing its facade stems from an art program in 2000). The building is currently used by ProRail.
A large indoor shopping center called Hoog Catharijne is located between the central railway station and the city center. Over the next 20 years (counting from 2004), parts of Hoog Catharijne will disappear as a consequence of the renovation of the Station-area.
Utrecht University is the largest university of the Netherlands. Utrecht is also home to the FC Utrecht football club, which plays in Stadium Nieuw Galgenwaard.
The city also has a minor skyline, dominated by the Dom tower, which will be expanded in the next couple of years. The second highest building of the city, the ‘Rabobanktoren’, which will be completed in 2010 and will have an altitude of 105m.
Utrecht city has an active cultural life. There are several theatres, the classical music centre Vredenburg, the rock club Tivoli, several cinemas including three arthouse cinemas. There are also many galleries selling art, and a fair number of museums (listed below). To involve a broad layer of the population into culture, Utrecht regularly organizes cultural Sundays, in which several organizations offer free admission around a changing theme. Utrecht also houses one of the landmarks of modern architecture, the 1924 Rietveld Schröder House, which is listed on UNESCO’s world heritage sites.