10 Walls and gates

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Cities and government
In the Middle Ages the independent position of a city was demonstrated by the prominence of its walls. In Nijmegen the oldest bulwark was probably constructed shortly after the city was given as collateral for a loan in 1247.

The first Nijmegen defensive walls were largely constructed from earth. The castle was situated within the city walls. The city was still a lot smaller than the present-day city centre. However, the population grew both within and outside the walls. Ribbon development took place along some of the arterial roads, such as Molenstraat. From around 1450 new, larger bulwarks were made so that these buildings could also be protected by the city walls. Further expansion took place up until 1530, after which the city would no longer be expanded until well into the nineteenth century.

All adult men were compelled to guard the city walls and if necessary defend them from siege. The gates were closed and locked every night. The most important city gates were first recorded in fourteenth century sources as being the Hezelpoort (1334) and Burchtpoort (1348). Two centuries later there were almost thirty large and small gateways. The preserved Kronenburger tower was part of the final expansion of the bulwark at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

The walls and gates formed the largest, most expensive and impressive complex ever built in the city. Aside from this there were several public buildings within the walls. Probably the oldest, but in any case the most important public building was the city hall. Nijmegen’s first city hall was situated on the banks of the river Waal. Later, at the end of the fourteenth century the city council took up residence in three adjoining houses in Burchtstraat. These houses were converted into the city hall in 1553-1554, with the communal monumental facade we know today. Another important building was the meat packing facility, situated almost exactly where the Waag (weigh house) is today. There was already a weigh house on Grote Markt, but the present building dates back to 1612-1613. The cloth makers’ hall was also on Grote Markt on either side of the church arch. Cloth traders had their stalls there. The municipal crane for loading the ships dominated the banks of the river. In the crane was a treadmill in which the ‘crane children’ walked. The municipal brick kilns were located outside the city.

The city council collected tolls and imposed taxes on beer and wine to pay for all the municipal facilities. Subsequently the use of the scales, the crane, the banks of the river, the brick kilns, a spot on the cloth maker’s hall or on the market all had to be paid for. Just as nowadays, markets were held on the street or on a square. In many cases the places concerned were named after the activities. The daily market was on Grote Markt (Large Market). The wood market, jug market, corn market, pedlars’ market, pig market, vegetable market and cattle market were all weekly markets. The sheet market, fur market, ox market and horse market were held annually.
The city begins to take shape
since 1247
Rudolph Lauwerier, View of the city side of the Hunnerpoort from Voerweg, 1878 (MHV)

Source: Jan Kuys, in: De Canon van Nijmegen, Uitgeverij Vantilt (Nijmegen 2009)