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Utrecht's ancient city centre features many buildings and structures several dating as far back as the High Middle Ages. It has been the religious centre of the Netherlands since the 8th century. It lost the status of prince-bishopric but remains the main religious center in the country. Utrecht was the most important city in the Netherlands until the Dutch Golden Age, when it was surpassed by Amsterdam as the country's cultural centre and most populous city.
Utrecht is host to Utrecht University, the largest university in the Netherlands, as well as several other institutions of higher education. Due to its central position within the country, it is an important transport hub for both rail and road transport. It has the second highest number of cultural events in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam. In 2012, Lonely Planet included Utrecht in the top 10 of the world's unsung places.
Utrecht's cityscape is dominated by the Dom Tower, the tallest belfry in the Netherlands and originally part of the Cathedral of Saint Martin. An ongoing debate is over whether any building in or near the centre of town should surpass the Dom Tower in height (112 m (367 ft)). Nevertheless, some tall buildings are now being constructed that will become part of the skyline of Utrecht.
The second tallest building of the city, the Rabobank-tower, was completed in 2010 and stands 105 metres (344 feet) tall. Two antennas will increase that height to 120 metres (394 feet). Two other buildings were constructed around the Nieuw Galgenwaard stadium (2007). These buildings, the 'Kantoortoren Galghenwert' and 'Apollo Residence', stand 85.5 metres (280.5 feet) and 64.5 metres (211.6 feet) high respectively.
Another landmark is the old centre and the canal structure in the inner city. The Oudegracht is a curved canal, partly following the ancient main branch of the Rhine. It is lined with the unique wharf-basement structures that create a two-level street along the canals. The inner city has largely retained its Medieval structure, and the moat ringing the old town is largely intact.
Because of the role of Utrecht as a fortified city, construction outside the medieval centre and its city walls was restricted until the 19th century. Surrounding the medieval core there is a ring of late 19th- and early 20th-century neighbourhoods, with newer neighbourhoods positioned farther out. The eastern part of Utrecht remains fairly open. The Dutch Water Line, moved east of the city in the early 19th century required open lines of fire, thus prohibiting all permanent constructions until the middle of the 20th century on the east side of the city.
Due to the past importance of Utrecht as a religious centre, several monumental churches were erected, many of which have survived. Most prominent is the Dom Church. Other notable churches include the romanesque St Peter's and St John's churches, the gothic churches of St James and St Nicholas, and the Buurkerk, now converted into a museum for automatically playing musical instruments .
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