Commonly known as the Water City District, finally, after a long nine flight hours, I have anchored my soul in the principal port and second most populated city in the Netherlands’ province of South Holland, Rotterdam. To begin our journey throughout this enigmatic metropolis, I would like to make a brief introduction of the city that is going to host me for about two months. To make the tour more enjoyable, I want to invite a mystical character who is going to walk you through the history, architecture and most representative places of this alive city. The main character of this story is the Maas Mermaid. The Maas Mermaid will guide us to undercover the culture, the language, the history, the architecture and exquisite dining at the barons harbors and adjacent neighborhoods. Welcome! And enjoy the Maas Mermaid and me on a fascinating voyage that will help us to discover the more unusual and most beautiful aspects of the Rotterdam Waterfront. Perhaps, you might be wondering yourself why a mermaid? And why the Maas Mermaid? Well, the answer places us back to old times. On one hand, a mermaid or Sirenia was a legendary and mystic aquatic creature that inhabit rivers, estuaries, swamps, coastal marine waters, and marine wetland. This mythology symbol was very popular in the folklore and was a subject of art and literature in many European countries. On the other hand, the city of Rotterdam is an extraordinary place surrounded by water, mainly by the Nieuwe Maas River, one of the emblematic rivers in the Dutch province of South Holland. This large water channel surrounds the city forming small and big districts connected by bridges and from where each one of them speaks by itself about memorable times. Thus, picturing Rotterdam as a fishing village where mermaids played an important role as part of its folklore and culture, what a remarkable way of walking you through each corner of Rotterdam by taking a popular character named with one of the names of the main rivers, the Nieuwe Maas Mermaid (New Meuse River).
History of Rotterdam
Beginning in 1270, a dam was formed on the lower loop of the River Rotte. This dam was located in the middle of the river, under what is now called the Hoogstraat street. Suddenly, a village quickly sprang up on it. Thus, the Rotte dam settlement was established. The name of Rotterdam first appeared officially around 1281, on a lease agreement belonging to Floris V.
The breakthrough of 1872 characterized by the increasing population and the transferring of goods, was the result of the excavation between 1866 and 1872 for the new waterway. This excavation was the long canal, which cut across the dunes to the Hook of Holland, forming a direct link with the North Sea. This meant that the Port of Rotterdam was readily available to the largest ocean steamers. Rotterdam was officially acclaimed as the greatest port in the world in 1962.
The Rotterdam of today is the result of the German bombing on 14th May 1940. This attack enabled the Germans to force the complete surrender of the Netherlands. Undeterred, the city council commissioned the design of a new City Centre. Unlike Dresden and Warsaw, cities also hit by the war. Rotterdam was diligent in not to rebuild the city stone by stone. Its ambition was beyond. Citizens wanted a new city. One that was modern and accessible. In such a way, one tower block after another rose rapidly out of the ashes. Today, the City Centre is located at the place popularly known as the Rotterdam Central Station.
My homestay is placed at the center of the Rotterdam City. I can say I live on a floating island. This quiet and ancient neighborhood welcomed my arrival with a hundred of identical old houses that long time ago were the places where wealthy families used to live. This place is called the Noordereiland. About 150 years ago, the Noordereiland or Northern Island was no more than a sandbank in the middle of the Nieuwe Maas River, surrounded by grassland and fields of rapeseed and buckwheat. The island appeared about as a result of the economic growth of the city created by the big excavation that we talked about above in the history section. The silt dredged from the koningshaven was deposited on the sandbank, and the NoordereiLand was ready for construction and development. These days, this fascinating jewel in the heart of Rotterdam is available for exploration. In epic words of Joe Cillen (a former seaman and artist), the island is a ship sailing down the Maas River. The ‘ship’ has about 3,000 sailors if you count them as the number of residents living on the island. The Noordereiland ‘ship’ has hidden treasures in the most unexpected places: antique shops, restaurants with gardens and terraces, sculptures in deserted streets, bench beside the Maas, old rich harbor barons’ houses and sailors’ bars.
Who was Erasmus?
Besides de curiosity I had about from where the name Rotterdam came from, a particular name started to appear everywhere across the city. Erasmus Bridge, Erasmus Street, Erasmus Building, Casa Erasmus, off course Erasmus University Rotterdam, and even a dish is named in his honor. But who was really Erasmus? The more I searched, the more interesting the character became. Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus or also well-known as Erasmus of Rotterdam was a great philosopher, writer and Dutch humanitarian personality back in his time.
Erasmus of Rotterdam was one of the Europe’s most famous and influential scholars and thinkers of the early 16th-century humanist movement in Norther Europe. He was also an intellectual arbiter and prevailing figure when brought along a theological revolution as a result of his views on the Reformation debate over human nature, religion, and free will.
Here is one of his most famous quotes: “There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.”
The Cosmopolitan City
Rotterdam is an open sky of architecture, an open air museum of art. I was astonished by the diversity of architecture and stylish pieces that decorate the city from the Zuid to the Noor. The interesting thing is that Rotterdam imagines, creates and delivers a magical realism impressed in the shapes, forms, and creativity of modern buildings. I would say this city is the chief hub for great ideas and open-mindedness. One of the most beautiful and eye-catching modern architecture that surprised the most was the combination among futuristic and old fashioned style neighborhood called the Oude Have. This place is a comprehensive design by Piet Blom, one of the world-famous architects base in Rotterdam. Piet Blom designed the cube houses in 1984. His design represents a tree, and all houses together make up a trunk. Blom’s concept was to create a kind of village within the central area of the city, a haven in which anything could happen. The combination of the PotLood and the cube and dock houses is unusual. It incorporates different styles, epochs, and preferences. With his cube houses, Blom demonstrates that there are a lot more possibilities than you would think.
The Erasmus Bridges is another remarkable asset for the city. This bridge does more than join two shores together. It represents a successful major transport infrastructure project and engineering work. The Erasmus Bridge is the third bridge across the river Nieuwe Maas and is an extension of Coolsingel between Leuvehoofd and Wilhelminaplein. On September 4, 1996, Queen Beatrix opened the new bridge. Soon the Erasmus Bridge, designed by Berkel & Bos, became the signature of the new Rotterdam. Because of its graceful shape she was popularly nicknamed the Swan. The Erasmus Bridge is an endless source of inspiration for photographers, filmmakers, advertisers, and even poets. A prettier picture than an aerial photograph of the bridge with marathon runners is hardly imaginable. Its structure and design articulation has become a distinctive landmark in the urban surrounding skyline.
Another prestigious piece of modern architecture within the ambit of this municipal museum is the Rotterdam’s Market Hall. With a soccer field size dimension, there is an indoor floor area full of fresh delicateness, vegetables, meat, bread and fish stalls. This ideal place, is a wonderland for real foodies wanting to spend a day in good taste. The Market Hall is located at the Rottetrdam Blaak area. The interior of the Rotterdam Market Hall is one of its kinds due to the huge colorful panels on the walls and ceiling, portraying lots of fruit and vegetables. The front and back entrance of the Markethal is made draught-proof using a huge glass facade. The indoor is multifunctional, as it offers an underground car parking and luxurious apartments/homes.
For more information of Rotterdam, visit https://en.rotterdam.info/
Rotterdam Cube Houses – Holland.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.holland.com/global/tourism/article/rotterdam-cube-houses.htm
Market Hall Rotterdam – Opening hours, parking, shopping …(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cityguiderotterdam.com/things-to-do/shopping/market-hall-rotterdam/