8 Valkhof castle

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Cities and government
A long-lasting internal conflict within Charlemagne’s former empire and the repeated invasions by the Vikings, caused the authority of the state to slowly diminish during the tenth and eleventh century. The imperial palace on Valkhof hill fell into disrepair, but things changed following the arrival of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

In 1047 the imperial palace on Valkhof hill was set on fire by counts and other noblemen who revolted against the German King Hendrik III. From that time on Nijmegen lost its importance as the centre of government of the German realm. For a long time the kings scarcely came to Nijmegen and there is no information of a possible reconstruction of the imperial palace. Even though damaged, the only building to survive the violence of 1047 was St. Nicholas chapel dating from 1030 and still standing today. No interest was shown in Nijmegen until Emperor Frederick Barbarossa arrived in the twelfth century. He visited Nijmegen a couple of times and appointed a viscount as deputy who was put in charge of governing and military defence. Barbarossa had the imperial palace rebuilt in grand style to honour himself and the German realm. These buildings were well-built and stood firm until their demolition in 1797-1798. The giant tower dominated all other castle buildings. To mark the reconstruction of the imperial palace, Emperor Barbarossa had a commemorative stone made in 1155. This stone can still be seen in Het Valkhof museum. The inscription refers to the glorious past of the stronghold which had been established by Julius Caesar. Even though this does not match historical facts, it does show that Emperor Barbarossa considered himself to have had just as important a role in history as Julius Caesar.

From all the buildings of Barbarossa’s time only the Chapel of St. Martin, a remnant of the palace chapel, was saved from demolition. We know what Valkhof castle looked like thanks to images and excavations. The castle grounds were surrounded on all sides by walls that connected to the town walls. However, the Valkhof was not part of the town. It was built as a royal residence and later became one of the residences of the counts and dukes of Guelders. When they were not staying at the Valkhof their functions were taken over by the viscount. The names Valkhof and Valkhof castle only date back to the fourteenth century or possibly later and refer to the falconry (valk = falcon) practiced by the castle nobility.
Emperor Barbarossa builds a giant tower
Jan van Goyen, View of Valkhof castle from the north west, 1641 (MHV)

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