The doors to the approximately 30 historic cellars in Arnhem to be visited are still closed due to the corona measures, but a visit can be on the wish list for better times. Under the district behind the former Rhine gate is a completely different world: that of the 14th and 15th centuries. Large numbers of barrels of wine were stored there.
Guide Rob Slepička leads us through. However, not before he has stopped at an underexposed point in the city of Gelderland: the intersection of the Oude Oeverstraat, at the former inner gate of the Rijnpoort.
He shows an old drawing. Where traffic now rages, in the 17th century the activity of the harbor took place, at the Schipbrug. “What hardly anyone knows is that here, in November 1813, the liberation of the Netherlands from the French by the Russian Cossacks and the Prussians began,” he says firmly.
“Where this hideous reconstruction flat now stands, used to be the special hotel Du Soleil, where the French were. There was fierce fighting in this street. Commander Termonia was murdered and thrown out the window and then the soldiers were allowed to raid the city. That’s how it used to be. Only then did King William I come from England to further liberate the Netherlands. A historical fact, but nobody really realizes it. ”
On to the historic cellars that were broken into in 1991, a project that was completed in 2001. Owners of cellars – almost every large house in Arnhem has one – were asked to give them on a long lease. The many stucco work was chipped off, 120 tons of rubbish was removed, some were dug deeper and the whole was connected to create a new cultural hotspot.
The hardwood oak of this staircase must be at least 700 years old.
They are so-called barrel vaults: built as the foundation of the house, with at the same time space to store things, often wine. Everywhere in the street you can see the now closed openings to the cellar: Belgian bluestone rectangles, some with engravings like ‘cellar 15th century’ in them. Such as in the Rijnstraat, in front of tapas restaurant and Tapas bar La Puerta, which we will walk under later.
The first stone houses of Arnhem stood in this area. After three city fires that razed the necessary thatched wooden houses, the city council encouraged wealthy merchants to build with stones; they received the roof tiles as a gift.
Here is also the neo-renaissance hotel Nouvelle from 1898, with a tunnel dug underneath that connects the cellars. Close to the St. Peter’s Hospital: the oldest house in the city from 1354, with the largest cellar underneath with a stainless steel entrance.
We will not accept that entrance. Rob Slepicka guides us from the official starting point on Oude Oeverstraat to the vaults. He switches on a flashlight, although lighting, heating and air system have been installed during the renovation, and shines more light into the two display cabinets in the first basement. Here you can see excavations from over the years: the flea and lice combs prove that these critters are timeless and the walrus-ivory teeth from 1800 indicate that dentures have been around for a longer period of time.
In one of the cellars we find a granite floor with the foundation of brine tanks. In the Middle Ages there was a butcher here. Throughout the corridors we find the original 14th and 15th century floors with brick pavers. Now and then you have to be careful with the steps in the narrow corridors or bend over through the low gates. An old, indestructible safe is a reminder of the Noppen company, a company in steel products.
The old safe from the company Noppen.
Whether it is damp in the cellars is a frequently asked question. With a groundwater level of 18 meters deep and the cellars 12 meters above sea level, the answer is no. One printer even kept his paper under his printer. The cellars have a constant temperature of 8 to 10 degrees, which is why it was the perfect space to store wine.
The walls of different types of stones, sometimes up to three meters thick, the irregular large monastery mops of the 14th and 15th centuries and the larger format bricks of the 19th century, prove to be perfect for climate control.
Also interesting are the recessed niches for candles. There are not many of them on a wall, according to guide Rob the sign that our eyes were better then than now. In one of the cellars we find just a little more of those carved niches in a wall; proof that work was likely taking place in that room and that more light was needed.
The carved niche for a candle to provide light.
The idea was once conceived of establishing catering establishments and cellars in the cellars. However, the lack of possibilities to close the spaces makes for an uninsurable situation, as does the rule that only a maximum of three hours of non-stop underground work is allowed. In normal times, parties, weddings and wine tastings now take place regularly.
Close to the largest cellar, underneath the Sint Petersgasthuis, we find the only room with a staircase to an upper house. Not a single cellar was accessible through the upper house; the entrances on the street served this purpose. The small staircase still has wooden ends that have been amazingly well preserved, knowing that the rock-hard oak must be more than 700 years old. The wood served to protect the stone against the steel rings of the wine casks; robust and easy to replace.
In the back we find a beautiful example of such a wine storage: large warehouses, built under the vaults. Those are wine cellars!
View through to the wine cellar.
“The front part was used as an air raid shelter during the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944,” says Rob. Sometimes people go along on his tours who took shelter here as children. “Can you imagine? Not a brief bombardment, as was thought, but six days. Without a toilet, without water, without food, many people together and only one entrance and exit. That must have been terrible. ”
From the wine cellar there is an exit to the hallway of the cultural center Rozet. The transition is great: for a moment we imagined ourselves in the 14th century, we almost heard the hustle and bustle, the wine casks that were stored, life then. The modern hallway takes us back to the 21st century. Wine then?
The guided tour of the Gilde Stadswandeling Arnhem is (when possible again due to corona) on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (at 5 euros, of which 1 euro goes to the Guild). For 4 euros you can freely walk around in the cellars from Wednesday to Saturday and the 1st Sunday of the month.
More information: Wandelinarnhem.nl, bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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