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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 850 – 1050

AD 850 – 1050

History

The son of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious, and his successors, the rulers of Francia Media, visited Nijmegen regularly.10 The Frankish rulers had no fixed capital and travelled continuously from palace to palace. In this way they enforced respect for the royal rights and controlled the local rulers to see if they were still loyal to them. If necessary the palaces were also used as a military base. Fig. 10 Fig. 11 Nijmegen was important to the Frankish rulers and the royal supervision on Nijmegen and the region was firm. We know this because between AD 804 and 870, thirteen Reichstage were held in the Valkhof palace. 11

Fig. 10: Timeline. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 10: Timeline. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 11: Charlemagne visits Nijmegen, by the 19th century painter Cornelis Springer. Using the still existing chapel of St Nicolas and books on the architecture of the Carolingian period, he tried to approach the original situation as close as possible. Painting by Cornelis Springer, The Valkhof in Nijmegen in the year 800, 1862. Credit: Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen

Fig. 11: Charlemagne visits Nijmegen, by the 19th century painter Cornelis Springer. Using the still existing chapel of St Nicolas and books on the architecture of the Carolingian period, he tried to approach the original situation as close as possible. Painting by Cornelis Springer, The Valkhof in Nijmegen in the year 800, 1862. Credit: Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen

Just below the Valkhof, on the banks of the river Waal, a Merovingian settlement arose, which later grew into the current lower town. A few hundred meters to the west, wooden houses arose among the ruins of the 2nd and 3th century Roman settlement. Fig. 12 It is not clear whether the oldest parish church on the current Kelfkensbos belonged to the village, or to the nobility on the Valkhof.12 Fig. 13 The residents of these settlements were mostly farmers. In exchange for the use of the land, these serfs had to give a part of their harvest to the palace and work on the land of the ruler. The lord in return had to ensure safety and law. The local rulers were usually bonded with the kings and emperors of the time by vassalage. The lord and vassal entered into a contract in which the vassal promised to fight for the lord at his command, whilst the lord agreed to protect the vassal from external forces.13 Fig. 14 Fig. 15

Fig. 12: Reconstruction of a building, the postholes of which were found during an archaeological excavation in the city centre of Nijmegen. Credit: Arjan den Braven

Fig. 12: Reconstruction of a building, the postholes of which were found during an archaeological excavation in the city centre of Nijmegen. Credit: Arjan den Braven

Fig. 13: Nijmegen 450-725, Green = Merovingian settlement, Blue = Ditches, Yellow = Valkhof, Red = Burial grounds. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 13: Nijmegen 450-725, Green = Merovingian settlement, Blue = Ditches, Yellow = Valkhof, Red = Burial grounds. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 14: Just south of the Valkhof, several fibulae (cloak pins) from the 10th and 11th century have been found. Bone sticks and slate spindles were also found on site. They indicate artisanry in the area like weaving and spinning. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 14: Just south of the Valkhof, several fibulae (cloak pins) from the 10th and 11th century have been found. Bone sticks and slate spindles were also found on site. They indicate artisanry in the area like weaving and spinning. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 15: Just south of the Valkhof, several fibulae (cloak pins) from the 10th and 11th century have been found. Bone sticks and slate spindles were also found on site. They indicate artisanry in the area, like weaving and spinning. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 15: Just south of the Valkhof, several fibulae (cloak pins) from the 10th and 11th century have been found. Bone sticks and slate spindles were also found on site. They indicate artisanry in the area, like weaving and spinning. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

After 949 the East-Frankish king Otto I visited the palace on the Valkhof regularly. The Valkhof functioned as a military, organisational and economic centre of the king’s lands. This period of relative calm was short-lived. In 1047, after a defeat of the emperor Hendrik III, the palace and village were burned to the ground by the Lotharingians.14

Archaeology

According to written contemporary sources Charlemagne built his palace on the Valkhof site in 777. The Romans before him used the site intensively. In the 4th and 5th centuries, there was a Roman fortification on the Valkhof. The remnants of this fortification must have still littered the site almost 300 years later. Charlemagne used the remnants of this fortification in the construction of the palace. Fig. 16 Fig. 17

Fig. 16: Roman columns used in the Barbarossa ruins on the Valkhof today. The capitals on the columns are Carolingian. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 16: Roman columns used in the Barbarossa ruins on the Valkhof today. The capitals on the columns are Carolingian. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 17: ‘Godenpijler’, AD 17, a roman column, dedicated to emperor Tiberius, depicting several Roman gods. This memorial column was initially 7,5 meters high and almost 1 meter wide. This 2 meter high segment was used as foundation of the defensive wall around the Valkhof, which was built in the 12th century. This fragment is displayed in Museum het Valkhof. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 17: ‘Godenpijler’, AD 17, a roman column, dedicated to emperor Tiberius, depicting several Roman gods. This memorial column was initially 7,5 meters high and almost 1 meter wide. This 2 meter high segment was used as foundation of the defensive wall around the Valkhof, which was built in the 12th century. This fragment is displayed in Museum het Valkhof. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

In 2007 ground tracer research has been performed on the Valkhof. Fig. 18 The foundation of an unknown building has been discovered. These foundations possibly belong to an early edition of the tower of the castle. The tower that is visible on all the old paintings of the site dates from 1155, when Barbarossa rebuilt the castle. Fig. 19

Fig. 18: Data made by the groundtracer 2.70 m en 6.00 m below ground level. Combined with archaeological work pits from Weve (1910) and the map of the castle before the demolition. 1. well, 2. foundation unknown building, 3. wall tower ?, 4. northsouth wing of the castle complex, 5. well, 6. tower or keep. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen, 2007

Fig. 18: Data made by the groundtracer 2.70 m en 6.00 m below ground level. Combined with archaeological work pits from Weve (1910) and the map of the castle before the demolition. 1. well, 2. foundation unknown building, 3. wall tower ?, 4. northsouth wing of the castle complex, 5. well, 6. tower or keep. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen, 2007

Fig. 19: View on the Waal and the Valkhof Castle, painting by Jan van Goyen, 1641. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

Fig. 19: View on the Waal and the Valkhof Castle, painting by Jan van Goyen, 1641. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

It is not known what the 8th century palace of Charlemagne looked like. Other palaces from that time period are described in old sources as large extensive complexes, made up of separate, unconnected wooden buildings. The buildings are not surrounded by a defensive wall. The palace in Nijmegen however, probably incorporated some parts of the stone Roman stronghold that were still standing. The Roman defensive ditches were also still there.15 The palace also contained stone parts made by the Carolingians themselves. About 200 meters from the site stone fragments have been found that have possibly been used in Barbarossa’s palace. Fig. 20 Fig. 21 Fig. 22

Fig. 20: Fragments of sculpture found on the Eiermarkt. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 20: Fragments of sculpture found on the Eiermarkt. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 21: Fragments of sculpture found on the Eiermarkt. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 21: Fragments of sculpture found on the Eiermarkt. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 22: Fragments of sculpture found on the Eiermarkt. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 22: Fragments of sculpture found on the Eiermarkt. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

On the Valkhof site, the chapel of St Nicolas is one of the few reminders of the medieval past still standing. Fig. 23 This chapel, a miniature version of the Aachen chapel, was built somewhere in the 10th or 11th century. Scientists are still debating the exact date. Elizabeth den Hartog from the University of Leiden studied the chapel and dates it back to Otto III, who may have had the chapel built in remembrance of his mother Theophano, who died in Nijmegen. Future carbon dating of the mortar in the foundations of the chapel will perhaps support this date.

Fig. 23: The chapel of St Nicolas. Credit: City of Nijmegen

Fig. 23: The chapel of St Nicolas. Credit: City of Nijmegen

Art and Architecture

The St Nicolas Chapel on the north-western corner of the Valkhof hill is one of the oldest stone buildings in the Netherlands. It is also known by the name of Pagan Chapel or Carolingian Chapel. The last names were given because it was previously assumed that it was built by the Romans and after that in the time of Charlemagne (742-814).16 Fig. 24

Historians still do not agree on the exact construction date of the chapel. Currently the majority assume that the chapel was built around 1030. Elizabeth den Hartog however believes the date can be pushed back to 996-997. She relates the consecration to the Byzantine Saint Nicolas to Empress Theophano of Byzantine origin, wife of Otto II and mother of Otto III. Theophano visited the Valkhof often and died here in 991. Den Hartog suggests that Otto III erected the chapel to commemorate his mother and dedicated it to one of her favorite saints.17

The chapel is built in Romanesque style. There is a sixteen-sided ambulatory with a gallery overhead encircling the central octagonal room. The building is strongly influenced by Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel in Aachen, which in his turn owes much to the sixth-century Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna. Originally, the chapel was built of tuff stone, partly from recycled material from the Roman ruins.18 Fig. 25 The chapel was heightened in 1397, according to the latest Gothic fashion. At this time the tuff stone was partially replaced by brick. During the demolition of the castle in 1796, the chapel of St Nicolas was saved by fierce protests from the local population.

On the other corner of the Valkhof hill stands the Barbarossa-ruin or St Marten Chapel. The building is also made of tuff stone and originally contained two levels. It has an semi-circular apse and a rectangular choir. The chapel is ornated with spolia: Roman columns and carolingian capitals. Barbarossa used elements from a historic period, which he admired to stress the continuity of the Empire. Fig. 26

Fig. 24: Chapel of St Nicolas on the Valkhof. Credit: Michiel Verbeek

Fig. 24: Chapel of St Nicolas on the Valkhof. Credit: Michiel Verbeek

Fig. 25: Ground plan of the Chapel of St Nicolas. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 25: Ground plan of the Chapel of St Nicolas. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 26: The Barbarossa-ruin or St Marten Chapel. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 26: The Barbarossa-ruin or St Marten Chapel. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

International Connections

In Velzeke a Roman fort was built in the late Augustan period. The first Roman fort in Nijmegen is also dated in the Augustan period. On the Hunerberg, east of the Valkhof a 20 ha fortress was constructed in AD 19 and was occupied for a few years. A fort on the Kops Plateau (12 BC – AD 69/70) and a new fortress on the Hunerberg (shortly after AD 69 -70 – end of the second century) were the most important successors of the old fortress. Fig. 27

Fig. 27: Roman soldiers in Nijmegen. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 27: Roman soldiers in Nijmegen. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

The region of Flanders, in which Ename lies, was looted by the Vikings in the 9th century. The Valkhof in Nijmegen shared this fate. From the North Sea, the Vikings set off for raids along the Rhine and her tributaries. In the winter of 880 and 881, they even used the Valkhof as winter quarters. A relic of this period, a Viking sword, has been found in the river Waal. Fig. 28

Fig. 28: Viking sword from the river Waal. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

Fig. 28: Viking sword from the river Waal. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

The name Gradisce means ‘fortified hilltop’, a suitable name as revealed by the excavations. In late antiquity the hilltop was surrounded by walls. A late Roman fortification on a high position is also found at the Valkhof site. The Valkhof too is situated on a dominating landscape feature, formed by a plateau of an ice-pushed ridge. The slopes on the north and the west sides of the plateau were steep and greatly enhanced its defensive possibilities. On the south side wide and deep ditches protected the fortification. Fig. 29 Fig. 19

Fig. 29: Section of one of the ditches from the late Roman period on the Kelfkensbos. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 29: Section of one of the ditches from the late Roman period on the Kelfkensbos. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

The central part of the church of San Vitale in Ravenna and the chapel on the Valkhof has the same octagonal shape. The latter was a smaller copy of the chapel at Aachen, build by Charlemagne in the 8th century. The design of the Aachen chapel followed the example of the octagonal part of the church in Ravenna, which was built in the 6th century. Charlemagne even used decorating materials as marble and columns originating from Ravenna. The chapel on the Valkhof was probably built by Otto III, in honour of his mother, the Byzantine princess Theophano, after her death in 991.The octagonal shape is a reference to Charlemagne and also to the Byzantine realm. Fig. 25 Fig. 30

Fig. 30: Charlemagne at his palace in Aachen. The octagonal chapel is depicted on the left. Credit: J. H. Isings, 1961

Fig. 30: Charlemagne at his palace in Aachen. The octagonal chapel is depicted on the left. Credit: J. H. Isings, 1961

The site of Montmajour is situated in the Rhone delta near the Mediterranean Sea and for that reason open to trade. It was an important site along the route from the Mediterranean region to the north. The palace on the Valkhof was also situated in a river-delta. The river Waal is a branch of the Rhine and a major route from the German Rhineland to the North Sea. However, until now there is no evidence that the Valkhof played an important commercial role, despite the presence of Dorestad, only 45 km west of the Valkhof. Dorestad, on a bend in the river Rhine, was the indisputable centre of commerce in the lower Rhine area from the 7th to the 9th century. Fig. 31

Fig. 31: Coin from Dorestad with a depiction of a ship, 814-840. Credit: Noordelijk Scheepvaartmuseum, Groningen

Fig. 31: Coin from Dorestad with a depiction of a ship, 814-840. Credit: Noordelijk Scheepvaartmuseum, Groningen

Connected to the palace in Prague is Emma, wife of Duke Boleslaus II, who, though a woman, played an independent role. She owned a civitas Melnic where coins were struck bearing her portrait and the text ‘ENMA REGINA‘. Equally independent was the Empress Theophano, wife of Emperor Otto III. Until her death she was the de facto ruler of the empire and signed charters with ‘imperatrix augusta’ and even, on one occasion, the male qualification ‘Theophanius imperator divina gratia’. Fig. 32

Fig. 32: Ivory plate depicting the crowning of Otto II and Theophano. Credit: Musée National du Moyen âge, Paris

Fig. 32: Ivory plate depicting the crowning of Otto II and Theophano. Credit: Musée National du Moyen âge, Paris

In Biskupija-Crkvina graves of Frankish origin have been excavated. This phenomenon is also attested in the vicinity of the palts on the Valkhof. A vast cemetery dating from the late Roman to the Merovingian period contains graves with weapons, bronze elements of gurdles, fibulae, hairpins and bracelets dating from the 4th and 5th centuries. The style of the objects reveals Frankish origin. Fig. 33

Fig. 33: Spearhead and axes from Frankish graves in Nijmegen. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 33: Spearhead and axes from Frankish graves in Nijmegen. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Ingelheim and the Valkhof are both mentioned in the ‘Vita Karoli Magni’, written by Einhard short after Charlemagne died. They are described as the most important palaces which Charlemage built, after his palace in Aken. Fig. 34

Fig. 34: Charlemagne, in Vita Karoli Magni by Eindhard ca 1050. Credit: Abby Saint- Martial de Limoges

Fig. 34: Charlemagne, in Vita Karoli Magni by Eindhard ca 1050. Credit: Abby Saint- Martial de Limoges

References

10 Verhoeven, T. H. G. (ed.), A concise history of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, 2011, chapter 7 ‘Charlemagne‘

11 Kuys, Jan and Bots, Hans (ed.), Geschiedenis van de oudste stad van Nederland, Middeleeuwen en nieuwe tijd, Wormer, 2005, p. 55

12 Willems, Willem J. H. and van Enckevort, Harry, ‘Ulpia Noviomagus, Roman Nijmegen, The Batavian capital at the imperial frontier‘, Journal of Roman archaeology, supplementary series number seventy-three, Portsmouth Rhode Island, 2009, pp. 101-105

13 Jansen, H. P. H. and Faber, D. J., Geschiedenis van de middeleeuwen, Utrecht, 1988, pp. 140-146

14 Kuys, Jan and Bots, Henk (ed.), Geschiedenis van de oudste stad van Nederland, Middeleeuwen en nieuwe tijd, Wormer, 2005, p. 56

15 Kuys, Jan and Henk Bots (ed.), Geschiedenis van de oudste stad van Nederland, Middeleeuwen en nieuwe tijd, Wormer, 2005, p. 201

16 Van Agt, J. F., ‘De Sint-Nicolaaskapel op het Valkhof‘, in Het Valkhof te Nijmegen, Nijmegen, 1984, p. 53

17 Elizabeth den Hartog has given a lecture about her theory on a symposium on the Valkhof that was held in Nijmegen in November 2012. Several articles on this subject will be published in the near future.

18 Kuys, Jan and Bots, Henk (ed.), Geschiedenis van de oudste stad van Nederland, Middeleeuwen en nieuwe tijd, Wormer, 2005, pp. 202-203

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