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The city is located on the Rhine. At Wijk bij Duurstede, the Kromme Rijn (Crooked Rhine) branches off, and the main branch is called Lek River downstream from Wijk bij Duurstede.
The name 'Wijk bij Duurstede' means 'neighbourhood near Duurstede'. Duurstede is the name of the nearby castle/ruin, where the bishop of Utrecht used to live. Wijk bij Duurstede is located at the place where Dorestad used to be, an important trade settlement, that was pillaged around 850 by the Vikings.
The castle originated in the 13th century. Around 1270, Zweder I van Zuylen van Abcoude built a freestanding keep on a raised and moated site near the lost city Dorestad. Until the beginning of the 15th century Duurstede Castle was in possession by the Van Zuylen van Abcoude family, until they were forced to sell it to the bishops of Utrecht in 1449.
Bishop David of Burgundy, who reigned from 1459 to 1496, completely rebuilt the castle. The old donjon was enclosed by new buildings. The still intact burgundian tower was also built around this time. His successors Frederick IV of Baden and Philip of Burgundy also used the castle as their residence, and Philip of Burgundy embellished the castle with renaissance features. Philip of Burgundy settled at Duurstede Castle when he became bishop of Utrecht in 1517. He was accompanied by his court painter Mabuse (Jan Gossaert), who helped to decorate the new palace of his master. At Philip's death, in 1524, Mabuse designed and erected his tomb in the church of Wijk bij Duurstede. After Philip's death, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor confiscated all territorial possessions of the bishopric of Utrecht, including Duurstede Castle.
In 1580, as a result of the Dutch Revolt, the castle fell into the hands of the States of Utrecht. The states, however, invested their money into building modern fortification around Wijk bij Duurstede, and as a result the castle fell into neglect. Further damage was done when French troops devastated Wijk by Duurstede in 1672, after which the townspeople used stone from the castle to rebuild their homes.
In 1852 the town council became owner of the castle and turned the surrounding fortifications into a park. Until 1925 the castle could only be reached by a little ferry.
The old donjon built by Zweder van Abcoude in the 13th century has withstood the passage of time reasonably well, and is an excellent example of medieval towers. The walls are 2.5 meters thick; the original entrance was at the second level and could only be reached with a wooden ladder that could be removed or destroyed in times of need.
One of the corner towers of the old castle was expanded in the 15th century into its current form. While the rest of the castle had a more residential purpose, the Burgundian tower obviously had a military purpose. It is more than 40 meters high, and has very thick walls.
Updated Sep 15, 2012
Wijk bij Duurstede has the only drive-through wind mill in the world. The mill is often confused with the mill that was made famous by Ruisdael's 1670 painting The windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede. That mill however no longer exists (its foundations can still be seen a couple of blocks away from the remaining mill). At the market place of Wijk bij Duurstede is one of the few church towers in the Netherlands with a flat roof, so built because the bishop couldn't afford to build a spire. Inside the tower a picture displays the planned construction of the tower. The tower was supposed to become higher than the Domtoren in Utrecht.
Written Sep 15, 2012