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Nijmegen, Het Valkhof

In 777 Charlemagne celebrated Easter on his newly built palatine on the Valkhof hill in the old Roman town of Nijmegen. Its successor, the Valkhof castle, was demolished in 1796 by its owner, the Province of Gelderland. By buying the two chapels the City Council saved them from demolishing. The hill was transformed into a city park and has been classified as a listed monument since 1973.

  • AD 1050 – Modern Era

AD 1050 – Modern Era

Development of the site

In 1155 the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederic I, nicknamed Barbarossa or Redbeard, decided to restore a number of dilapidated Carolingian palaces, including the palace in Nijmegen, to their former glory. Fig. 35 The parts of the old palace still standing, the Chapel of St Nicholas and St Martin’s Chapel, were restored and incorporated into the new castle. Between the two older buildings, a keep (Donjon) was erected. On this occasion the emperor had a text carved in a Roman column that was split from top to bottom: “A thousand years after salvation was given to the world, added thereto one hundred and fifty years, as emperor of his kingdom, Frederic friend of the peace, rebuilt the dilapidated, collapsed old stronghold of Nijmegen almost sunk into insignificance, in equal beauty and splendor.” Barbarossa also mentioned Julius Caesar in this text, which he regarded as the founder of the castle. The reference to Julius Caesar and the use of the Roman pillar symbolized the continuity of the emperorship, from the Roman emperors via Charlemagne in a straight line to Barbarossa’s dynasty of the Hohenstaufen.19 In 1165 Frederic’s wife Beatrix gave birth to the future Emperor Henry VI on the Valkhof. In 1171 Frederic Barbarossa held a Reichstag in Nijmegen.

Fig. 35: Frederic I Barbarossa and his sons King Henry VI and Duke Frederick VI. Medieval illustration from the Chronic of the Guelphs, Weingarten Abbey, 1179-1191. Credit: World History Archive

Fig. 35: Frederic I Barbarossa and his sons King Henry VI and Duke Frederick VI. Medieval illustration from the Chronic of the Guelphs, Weingarten Abbey, 1179-1191. Credit: World History Archive

The paintings and drawings of the palace on the Valkhof that have survived show a large castle, with great walls and several buildings. However, probably only the keep and both chapels were part of the palace of Barbarossa. They were erected in tuff stone, as were parts of the circular wall and the cellars of the north-south wing. The other components of the castle complex were built in the 14th century and were erected in brick, which was the customary building material of the time.20 Fig. 36

Fig. 36: The palace on the Valkhof, Hendrik Hoogers (1747-1814), copper engraving. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

Fig. 36: The palace on the Valkhof, Hendrik Hoogers (1747-1814), copper engraving. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

In 1776 the owner, the Provincial College of Gelria, planned to sell the castle because of the high value of tuff and the rising costs of maintenance. The castle was completely demolished except for the two chapels.

References

19 This text has survived until now and can be viewed in Museum the Valkhof, near the site.

20 Lemmens, Gerard, ‘De burcht van Barbarossa‘, in Het Valkhof te Nijmegen, Nijmegen, 1984, pp. 59-72

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