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Visiting Dordrecht, The Netherlands and its Cathedral: with its imposing tower and clocks

Updated on July 16, 2012
Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
Dordrecht Cathedral from the Kalkhaven
Dordrecht Cathedral from the Kalkhaven | Source
Cathedral, Dordrecht
Cathedral, Dordrecht | Source
Engraving of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt
Engraving of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt | Source
Map location of Dordrecht, The Netherlands
Map location of Dordrecht, The Netherlands | Source

Huge clockfaces and shaky foundations

'Dordrecht' has two other, widely used spellings: Dordt and Dort. These alternative spellings reflect both Dutch colloquial usage and English-language historical accounts of events in the city.

The Cathedral (Dutch: Grote Kerk) at Dordrecht, built in the shape of a cross, was principally erected between 1285 and 1470. The architect mainly responsible for the building was Everaert Spoorwater (d.1474)(1). It is reckoned that — apart from the effect of restorations — the current appearance of the church building has remained broadly unchanged since 1470.

Its 65-metre tower was originally to have been taller, but, because it slightly leans, as a result of inadequate foundations, the decision was made to keep it essentially at its current height. Its four, huge, stone clockfaces were built principally as a result of the decision not to give the tower any further height.

The building notably possesses a bell which weighs 9830 kilograms: the heaviest in The Netherlands. This bell forms part of an extensive carillon.

Its pulpit dates from 1756.

The building underwent some considerable restoration work in the 20th century, including on the foundations.

Historically, Dordrecht was notably the venue for the Union of Dordrecht (Dutch: Unie van Dordrecht), 1572, which chose William of Orange (Dutch: Willem van Oranje) (1533-1584) as leader of the Dutch States.

It was also the location for the Synod of Dort (Dutch: Synode van Dordrecht) in 1618/19, whereby Reformed ministers engaged in doctrinal controversies, the direct or indirect results of which being that detractors of Calvinism were either banished from Reformed pulpits, or, in the case of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (2), beheaded. (Foundational issues indeed! but of a doctrinal or political or personality nature — quite apart from the architectural issues surrounding Dordrecht's Cathedral? and is it sometimes too disturbing to look closely at historical leitmotive?) In addition, the Synod commissioned a new Dutch Bible translation, which, as the Statenvertaling (i.e., States' translation, or version), was subsequently issued in 1637.

Dordrecht is located in the South Holland (Dutch: Zuid-Holland) province of The Netherlands.

July 16, 2012


(1) Architect Spoorwater was also known for work on the Cathedral at Antwerp, Belgium, the Bavokerk, Haarlem, and others.

(2) Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547-1619) was the long-serving Land's Advocate (Dutch: Landsadvocaat) for the States of Holland (Dutch: Staten van Holland). Achieving distinction in the struggle against Spain, Oldenbarnevelt was identified with Calvinism, although not himself regarded as a theologian; however, during the deliberations of the Synod of Dort, he fell foul of stricter interpreters of Calvinism, influential among the increasingly centralizing States-General (Dutch: Staten-Generaal), who ordered his trial and execution.

Also worth seeing

In Dordrecht itself, visitor attractions include: the Augustijnenkerk and Het Hof, dating from the 13th century; the Gate known as the Groothoofdspoort; and others.

Rotterdam (distance: 22 kilometres); visitor attractions include: the statue of Erasmus (born in Rotterdam) outside the Sint-Laurenskerk; the fine City Hall; the Euromast; the Cube Houses; and many others.


How to get there: Airlines flying to Amsterdam Airport from New York include Delta Airlines and KLM. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains rail services from Amsterdam to Dordrecht. There is car rental availability at Amsterdam airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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