The day’s challenge…climb to the top of the tallest tower in the Netherlands, Dom Tower. Challenge accepted! Just a moment, back up the boat! One day hiking ’round the Leukermeer and the next climbing a church tower!? Well, yea, that’s the Netherlands! Lots to see with itty-bitty spaces between. We’d traveled 77.4nm between the Leukermeer and Utrecht; transited five locks, crossed a major, commercial waterway the Waal River (Rhine River), and arrived via the Merwedekanaal. That involved two overnight stops and a few side stories…but for the moment, back to Utrecht where we were instantly cozy at the town’s quayside mooring and had totally fallen head-over-heels for this quaint yet bustling town. At the center, Dom Tower beckoned us upward. And so, after a visit to the tourist office and 9-Euros a’piece, we entered the tower with the 15:00 tour group. Dom Tower was built during the 12th century with Gothic style architecture; Gothic, pointed arches were all the rage during that time in France and builders in Utrecht followed the trend. Dom Tower’s height was a symbol of the worldliness of Bishop Jan van Henegouwen. The tower and church behind the tower were once joined, but a tornado during August of 1674 swept through the church, devastating the nave which had the weakest construction and it was never rebuilt. In fact, the rubbish remaining from the tornado was left until 150 years later; it is now the courtyard you see in the photo above. To reach the top of Dom Tower, we climbed 465 steps and paused on the tower floors to learn its history from our very informative and enthusiastic guide. The tower was built from the inside out; and so the guide told us to look for trap doors at each level through which the building materials would have been lifted. The most impressive aspect of the tower, aside from the views, are the bells. There are fourteen bronze bells halfway up the tower, their sizes vary. The bells were founded in 1505 and were actually raised to the top of the tower and lowered into place via man-power and horse-power physically heaving the bells by pulling them via ropes; our guide said this resulted in men and horses walking well beyond the town’s boundaries. These bells are still played manually, a task that involves 25 people and heavy-duty ear protection! Higher still in the tower, there is a hemony carillon; 50 bells that can be manually or mechanically played. Our guide gave us a demonstration on the children’s version. Basically, the bells are all attached to cables, similar to keys on a piano, each bell has it’s own key and can be rung individually. Our guide played out a simple song for us by using her fists on the wooden dowels to ring the bells. Played together, the sound is lovely. Mechanically, the hemony carillon works like a giant music box. There is a turning wheel, with spokes similar to that of a wind-up music box. As the wheel turns, the spokes catch the cables to ring the attached bells. We had the pleasure of listening to a manually played concert during a Sunday morning in Utrecht when the bells are played by a musician. It was marvelous, as if a symphony were playing above the city.
The stairs are getting narrower…twisting to the top! As we climbed we imagined how this awesome tour could ever be possible in the United States; likely it would never meet safety requirements with 465 narrow, slippery, stone stairs and only a few hand railings! At the top of the tower, wonderful views of Utrecht below, and even farther toward Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Take a good look at the canal below, narrow tunnel beneath a walking plaza – Detour will be going through that, and the little gargoyle in the left-corner will take in the whole scene…I’ll be holding my breath and hoping for good luck!