The iconic Dom Tower is Utrecht's pride and joy – a special monument with a unique story. At 112 metres, it remains the highest church tower in the Netherlands.
The tower has been the central feature of the city for centuries, and has borne witness to the trials and tribulations experienced by its citizens. The tower survived violent storms, occupations by foreign powers and fires – but it has also seen festivities, flourishing trade and the expansion of the city.
Utrecht's history began 2000 years ago on the site of the Dom Square today. That is also where the tumultuous past of the city and the Dom Tower begins.
The Roman Limes: 47 AD
Like many European cities, Utrecht started out as a Roman fortress. The Roman Emperor Claudius had various settlements built along the Rhine, the northern boundary of the Roman Empire. The frontier of the Roman Empire is also referred to as the Limes. One of these so-called castellums was Trajectum, which is now the city of Utrecht. Due to the elevated, sandy ground, the river was easy to ford here, and Trajectum soon became a busy trading post. In 275 AD, the Romans abandoned their settlement.
The arrival of Christianity: 630 – 695
The period until about 650 AD is shrouded in mystery. When, around 695, the Frankish king assigned the former castellum to Willibrord as a mission post, Utrecht's fate as an ecclesiastical centre was sealed. Willibrord restored the dilapidated walls of the old castellum and built a church which he consecrated to Saint Martin.
Utrecht and St Martin:
Ever since the missionary Willebrord consecrated the little church to St Martin, there has been a link between the city of Utrecht and the saint. St Martin is the patron saint of the 'Dom city', which is why the Dom Tower is also referred to as St Martin's Tower. According to the legend, St Martin shared his red-and-white cloak with a beggar while serving as a Roman soldier in the 4th century AD. He later converted to Christianity and became Bishop of the French city of Tours.
You can still find the red-and-white colours everywhere today, for example in the city's flag or the shirts worn by Utrecht's football team, FC Utrecht. The feast of St Martin is celebrated in Utrecht every year, on and around 11 November.
The Vikings: 857 – 920
The Vikings tear through Europe and destroy the church. Willibrord's successors flee to Deventer. In 920, Bishop Balderic is able to return to Utrecht, and the St Martin's Church is restored.
The Roman Dom: 1015 – 1023
Once again the church is severely damaged, this time by a fire. The church is torn down, and Bishop Adalbold begins the construction of a new, very large Cathedral of St Martin in the Roman round arch style. The new church is consecrated in 1023.
Roman Church ca. 1100
Lofen Palace and city rights: 1040 – 1122
Around 1040, the highest secular authority, the German Emperor, builds a medieval city residence, Lofen Palace, within the walls of the former castellum.
On 2 June 1122, Emperor Henry V grants Utrecht and its citizens city rights. The charter is one of the oldest documents in the city's possession, and can be found in the Utrecht Archives.
The Gothic Dom: 1254
In 1253, a huge fire destroyed much of the city, and possibly also part of the Dom. In 1254, the first stone was laid for a new and even bigger Gothic cathedral on the site of the Roman church. We do not know whether the fire prompted the construction of the Gothic Dom, but it took place fairly soon after the catastrophe. Construction began with the choir, followed by the tower, the transept and the nave.
If you want to know more about Dom Square, make sure to visit DOM under, the underground journey of discovery into the origins of Dom Square.
1321 – 1342
The construction of the Dom Tower begins in 1321, but the construction ends up being halted between 1328 and 1342 due to a lack of funds.
The Dom Tower is completed: it is the highest point of the Dom complex and symbolises the bishop's secular and ecclesiastical power. Jan van Henegouwen and Jan van den Doem were the main master builders. The weather vane depicted St Martin and was 106.75 metres off the ground.
Bell-founder Geert van Wou creates the 13 impressive bells that hang halfway up the tower. All of the bells have their own name and sound, and weigh more than 30,000 kilos. The bells are hung in a wooden bell frame that is able to cope with their weight and withstand their vibrations.
The year of the Iconoclastic Fury. Catholic statues and shrines are destroyed, and the Dom becomes a Protestant church.
The Hemony brothers supply 35 bells for the tower's new carillon.
A devastating tornado sweeps through Utrecht on 1 August 1674, and the church's nave collapses. Elsewhere in the city, too, the storm causes significant damage. The church and the tower become permanently separated.
The ruins of the collapsed nave are cleared, making way for the current Dom Square.
The Dom Tower is in a bad state. In 1836, a renovation begins which will end up taking five years. The option of demolishing the tower is even considered, briefly, but thankfully that plan never came to pass!
1901 – 1930
Between 1901 and 1930, the tower is restored once again. The restoration committee is headed up by the famous architect P.J.H. Cuypers. The spire is given a new roof, raising the height of the tower to 112 metres and 32 centimetres, and the Dom Tower gets a reception building with an elegant staircase. This building is designed by G.W. van Heukelom, also known for the ProRail building known as 'the Inkwell', the largest brick building in the Netherlands.
The Dom Tower is ready for the future!