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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.

Places to visit

Entrance park

The Valkhof in Nijmegen is one of the sites in the Heritage route of the Francia Media – Cradles of European Culture project. This location has been an important place since Roman times. The Romans were the first to build a fortification on this elevated ridge along the river Waal. The German emperors Charlemagne, Otto II and Frederick Barbarossa also recognized the Valkhof as a strategic place to build a castle.

Although the castle has been demolished in 1796, the grandeur and beauty of this site is still represented in its chapel of St Nicolas and the ruinous St Martin’s chapel.

The Francia Media – Cradles of European Culture project is a EU-funded project that focuses on a historical period that is emblematic of the formative decades of Europe: the Early Middle Ages, when the idea of Europe was founded.

The Chapel of St Nicolas

The Chapel of St Nicolas is one of the oldest stone buildings in the Netherlands and one of the few remains of the medieval past of Nijmegen still standing. It has also been known by the name ‘Pagan Chapel’, because it was thought to have been built by the pagan Romans. In the walls of the chapel Roman roofing tiles have been used. Perhaps that is why the chapel is also known by its nickname.

Historians still do not agree on the exact date of the construction of the chapel. Based on the building history of the chapel the majority currently assume that the chapel was built around 1030. However, based on historical information it may be argued that the Emperor Otto III erected the chapel to commemorate his mother Theophano, who visited the palace on the Valkhof often and died here in 991.

St Martin's Chapel or Barbarossa ruins

In 1155 the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa decided to restore the Carolingian manor in Nijmegen to its former glory. Those parts of the old manor that were still standing were rebuilt, repaired, and incorporated in the new castle, among which St Martin’s Chapel, also known as the Barbarossa ruin. Between the old and repaired structures the new keep or Donjon was constructed. At this occasion the emperor ordered an inscription to be carved out on half of a Roman column that had been cut through lengthways. In the text, Frederick mentioned Julius Caesar, whom he considered to have been the founder of the castle. The reference to Julius Caesar and the reuse of the Roman column (to be seen in Museum The Valkhof) symbolized the continuity of the empire from the Roman emperors through Charlemagne in a direct line to Fredericks own family

The Valkhof palace

In order to control his vast empire, Charlemagne travelled from town to town, from palace to palace. In 777 he celebrated Passover in his brand new palace on the Valkhof in Nijmegen. In later years he visited Nijmegen regularly. How this residence in Nijmegen looked is not known, but we can assume it had an aula regia, just like the palaces in Aachen and Ingelheim. The aula regia is a great hall where the emperor resided when he stayed in the palace. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious, and his successors also frequented the Valkhof with some regularity. In 880 the Vikings overpowered the palace on the Valkhof and stayed here during the winter. On their retreat they torched the place, without however completely destroying the buildings.

The excavation and temporarily resurrection of the Giant Tower or Donjon

Municipal architect Weve, who was very interested in history, started a search for the remains of the demolished castle in 1911. Therefore he planned to dig 25 small pits in the Valkhofpark. Four of these pits he plotted on the part of the park where he hoped to find the remains of the ‘Giant Tower’ or Donjon. His disappointment was great when they were not found. The demolition crew clearly had done its best in 1794, by even removing the foundations. In 2005 the donjon was temporarily rebuilt in scaffolding and linen with a historic look of the Donjon. The construction was visited by thousands of people.

Archaeological research by Jan J. Weve

In 1910 the municipality decided to excavate the soil in and around the Barbarossa ruins to its original level. Weve seized the opportunity to conduct archaeological research. As the municipal architect, he not only designed homes and public buildings, but he also worked as an engineer and as inspector of dilapidated houses. Weve had great interest in (architectural) history, and thus he studied the history of the Valkhof hill. During the excavations, six skeletons were discovered. Weve imagined that these were the graves of 4th century Frankish warriors. Based on the burial gifts, such as two swords, we now believe these burials date from the 7th century.

Nearby locations

Museum het Valkhof

Museum Het Valkhof houses a major collection of Roman antiquities, old masters, and modern art. It is located at the edge of the historic Valkhof Park, which was once the site of a Roman encampment and, many centuries later, the residence of Charlemagne. Today, you will find an exciting modern museum for art and archaeology, designed by the renowned architect Ben van Berkel. A grand staircase leads you up to the light and spacious rooms on the exhibition floor. You can choose your own route, meandering past exceptional archaeological finds, 17th century paintings, silverware, and modern paintings. The long glass gallery with its undulating ceiling offers a panoramic view of the grand river landscape beyond. Museum Het Valkhof actively strives to engage the public and regularly organizes new activities based on permanent collections or temporary exhibitions.

Roman column

On the Kelfkensbos square in front of Museum Het Valkhof stands a column with historical texts about Nijmegen. The base of the column is formed by a replica of two blocks of stone with images of several Roman gods and goddesses. The most important is the emperor Tiberius who is offering to the goddess Victoria, celebrating the victories over the Germans in the year 17. The original blocks are now in the nearby museum. The original column was about 9 meter high and was placed in the neighbourhood, in the centre of the Roman town Oppidum Batavorum.

Medieval town wall

On the right side of the museum Het Valkhof is an entrance to the Hunnerpark with parts of the town wall dating from de 16th century. The Belvedere tower originally was one of the watchtowers. Also, remnants of the predecessor of the church dedicated to St Stephen are visible. This church was moved to its present place in the 13th century.

Stratemakerstoren

On the quay next to the river Waal, just below the Valkhof, is the Stratemakerstoren, one of the watchtowers from the town defences. It dates from the 16th century and can be visited.

Roman wall

Also on the quay, remains of the Roman past are visible. In the basement of the building of Holland Casino, a Roman floor-heating system (hypocaustum) is on the front side; on the rear side of the building a part of a Roman wall dating from the 4th century can be seen. Both are visible from the outside. Here, from the first century onwards a settlement was situated. In the late Roman period a huge wall was built on the land side of the settlement for protection. For the same reason, protection in dangerous times, in that period a strong fort was located on the Valkhof.

The grave of a 4th century rich lady

It is indicated in the Burchtstraat as an aluminium plate with an image of her skeleton. She was once rich, according to her coffin of lead and the objects that were placed in it. Amongst them are several glaze bottles for perfume. The coffin and its contents are displayed in Museum The Valkhof, including a reconstruction of the face of the lady.

House of Nijmegen History

The House of Nijmegen History is the starting point for everyone who wants to know more about the history of Nijmegen. The ‘house’ is situated in the Mariënburgkapel, a small chapel in the city centre of Nijmegen dating back to the early 15th century. In the chapel, exhibitions, lectures, educational projects and tourist activities are held.

Places to visit Nearby locations

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