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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.

  • Modern Era – Today

Modern Era – Today

Archaeological Research

The Provincial College of Gelria sold the castle, and after the castle was demolished in 1795, the tuff stone walls were grounded to cement and mortar. Because of feverish negotiation the city of Nijmegen succeeded in saving the two ‘pagan’ chapels, because it was thought that these dated from Antiquity. After the demolition a city park was created on the former castle grounds in the style English landscape gardening, by design of J. D. Zocher sr. The two chapels that survived were meant to inspire the walkers to melancholy musings about the great past of the place. Fig. 37 Fig. 38

Fig. 37: Design of the park on the Valkhof by Jan D. Zocher. Credit: Regional Archives Nijmegen

Fig. 37: Design of the park on the Valkhof by Jan D. Zocher. Credit: Regional Archives Nijmegen

Fig. 38: Watercolour painting by J. van Leeuwen (1822), with on the right the poplars planted after the demolition of the palace. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

Fig. 38: Watercolour painting by J. van Leeuwen (1822), with on the right the poplars planted after the demolition of the palace. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

In 1910 the first modern scientific archaeological excavation was conducted, by J. J. Weve, municipal architect of Nijmegen. He dug several trenches on strategic places in the park. A part of the south wing of the palace as well as six skeletons with burial gifts were found. A year later, Weve tried to decipher the floorplans of 1726 and 1795, by digging several more trenches. He was very disappointed however, because he didn’t find any remains of the walls. Weve’s extensive report of his excavations on the Valkhof was not published until 1980.21 Fig. 39

Fig. 39: A map with legend from a master carpenter in 1726, redrawn by J. J. Weve, 1910. Credit: Regional Archives Nijmegen

Fig. 39: A map with legend from a master carpenter in 1726, redrawn by J. J. Weve, 1910. Credit: Regional Archives Nijmegen

In WWII a bunker was built on the Valkhof, and a burial was found. Other excavations for military purposes in the vicinity were also necessary. F. J. de Waele, professor at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, has documented the finds ‘at least as far as the military authorities provided the opportunity’.22 In September 1946, under the leadership of Hendrik Brunsting of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden some trenches were dug on the Valkhof. The documentation of the excavation seems to have disappeared without trace. Only a field drawing with some profiles and references in newer studies are still available. 23 Since WWII several small non-disruptive investigations have taken place, in particular during renovations of the park. Investigation through hundreds of boreholes drilled in the Valkhofhill is now on the agenda.

Site today

The Valkhof site in Nijmegen is now a city park. Fig. 40 It is the oldest park in Nijmegen and one of the oldest city parks in the Netherlands. It was created in the late 18th – early 19th centuries on and around the remains of the Valkhof castle by design of landscape architect J. D. Zocher sr. In the 19th century the park became a public park. Nowadays, the Valkhof is mostly a quiet place. Several times each year however, the park changes into a festival site. Every year in May the festival ‘Dag van het Levenslied’ is held here, where several artists perform typical Dutch and German (love) songs. In the summer, during the Four Days Marches, the Valkhof festival is part of the festivities taking place throughout the city. Fig. 41

Fig. 40: Aerial view of the Valkhof from the north. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 40: Aerial view of the Valkhof from the north. Credit: Bureau Archaeology and Monuments, City of Nijmegen

Fig. 41: Band playing in the Barbarossa ruins during the Valkhof festival. Credit: Erik 1980 Wikimedia Commons

Fig. 41: Band playing in the Barbarossa ruins during the Valkhof festival. Credit: Erik 1980 Wikimedia Commons

The Valkhof is a national monument. Changes to the park have to meet strict requirements. Every fifteen years or so however, some plan to rebuild the castle is brought forward. In 2006, a referendum was held in Nijmegen and the majority of the inhabitants of the city voted in favour of rebuilding the Donjon. At the moment, architects and commercial parties are working together to create a design for this new keep. The final design will be judged by the Minister of Culture in relation to the loss of cultural and historic value it might entail. For now, only the chapels of St Nicolas and St Martin are reminders of the great palace that once was.

Just outside the park, on the Kelfkensbos, a reconstruction of the ‘Godenpijler’, a monumental Roman column of which elements have been found in the vicinity, stands as a reminder to Roman times. Fig. 42 The Kelfkensbos used to be an integral part of the Valkhof. The road separating it from the Valkhof Hill was dug out of the hill around 1400 as an alternative for the steep roads to the river Waal. Museum Het Valkhof is on this part of the hill. The museum was built in 1999 according to a very modern design. Fig. 43 The old Roman moats have been made visible again by marking in the pavement.

Fig. 42: Reconstruction of 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. A 2 meter high original segment is displayed in Museum Het Valkhof. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

Fig. 42: Reconstruction of 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. A 2 meter high original segment is displayed in Museum Het Valkhof. Credit: Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

Fig. 43: Museum Het Valkhof, Credit: Elly Waterman, Wikimedia Commons

Fig. 43: Museum Het Valkhof, Credit: Elly Waterman, Wikimedia Commons

References

21 Weve, Jan Jacob, De Valkhofburcht te Nijmegen. Een alsnog-uitgave van het manuscript uit 1925 (redactie J.M.T. Nooy), Nijmegen, 1980

22 Some documentation from Ferdinand J. de Waele is being kept at the Regional Archives in Nijmegen, sections 19-5846, 19-5846 and 1142/1943.

23 van Enckevort, H. and Smit, M., De laatmiddeleeuwse burcht in de ondergrond van het Nijmeegse Valkhof, 2008, research of previous archaeological investigations of the Valkhof, internal document

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