The historic wharf cellars of Utrecht

Route & Starting point

UtrechtDownUnder 2017 was located at several wharf cellars at the Oudegracht, between the Wed and the Twijnstraat. Most cellars are usually not accessible to the public, but for this occasion their doors opened up.

A day ticket could be purchased for 6 euros at two different starting points; Kafé België and Café De Morgenster. One could also buy a ticket online at our website. Tickets bought online could be redeemed for a day ticket with a route map at the starting points of the route.

Kafé België, Oudegracht 196

Café De Morgenster, Oudegracht 323

The origin of the historic cellars

Wharf cellars did not exist yet around the 11th century. There was a significant difference in level between the low-lying wharfs and the buildings in the street. All merchandise first had to be pulled onto the shore, before being moved to the cellar below the canal-house through the cellar stairs.

At the end of the 12th century, the first tunnel was dug below the street, so the merchandise could be transported directly from the wharf to the cellar of the house.

The construction of the tunnels led to the construction of wharf cellars as wide as the plot itself. Wharf cellars with a barrel vault. Moreover, the cellar could also be used as storage space because of its width. All tunnels leading to the house cellars were gradually being replaced by wharf cellars.

After 1300, the construction of wharf cellars flourished and they became an unbroken row of cellars.

Around 1500, there was barely any room left at the Oudegracht for new wharf cellars. To fulfil the demand for new storage space for spirits, peat, pigs and other merchandise, the cellar vaults were raised with higher arched ceilings in the third period up to 1700.

Since 1400, the street level had risen with more than half a meter, which made it possible to raise the vault ceilings. Below the abutments of public bridges, bridge cellars were constructed with their ribs being built perpendicular to the wharf cellars. In the coming centuries, the cellars were elongated. After some time, all cellars were enclosed by a brick wall with a door and some windows.



So, the 732 Utrecht wharf cellars came into being because of private initiatives. The wharfs, wharf cellars and bridges, together with five kilometers of city center canals, formed a medieval city harbor.

The wharfs and wharf cellars started to fall into disrepair in the first half of the 20th century, because they were used less and being maintained poorly. Major repairs and restoration projects were initiated from 1948. The municipality of Utrecht made sure the wharfs were being paved. This created public space. Since 1953 a form of public art owning came into being because around 330 lantern consoles along the canal were each fitted with a sculpture.

When the municipality started maintenance on the wharfs in 2008, they soon discovered the brickwork to be in heavy disrepair at some places. Wooden foundations were rotting away. A major restoration proved necessary.

The wharf walls, wharf cellars, vault walls and ramparts have been restored for the most part. At this time, the final foundation parts of the walls between the quay and the water are being fortified or replaced if necessary. An impressive task.

Repair of the Utrecht wharf walls 2017