Jan van Goyen

Gorinchem then and now

History of Gorinchem

Gorinchem or – as it is more commonly known – Gorcum, has the motto “Fortes creantur fortibus”: the strong beget the strong. This motto was derived from the motto of the Heren van Arkel (Lords of Arkel), who from the beginning of the 13th century until 1412 ruled the Land van Arkel, of which Gorinchem was the capital.

On 11 November 1382, Gorinchem was granted city rights by Otto van Arkel. Little more is known about the foundation of the city. The name Gorinchem was mentioned for the first time in a document from 1224, in which Floris IV approved the toll freedom of the people of Gorcum in the whole county of Holland. The settlement Gorinchem most likely originated around the year 1000 on a higher situated piece of land, at the mouth of the river Linge in the river Merwede. De first inhabitants were fishermen and farmers.

The Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the city and its inhabitants were often threatened. In the first place by the water which continued to be a danger, even after the creation of dikes. In addition, contagious diseases frequently caused a great deal of anguish and the land of the Lords van Arkel was a much sought after prey for the neighbouring states of Holland and Gelre. By the end of the 13th century, the settlement was reinforced by palisades. In the middle of the 14th century these were replaced by stone walls with towers. All these efforts, however, could not prevent that Gorinchem was eventually annexed by Holland. On that occasion, the last descendant from the house of Van Arkel perished. In the Revetsteeg a plaque reminds us of this event.

The junction with Holland brought the traders of Gorinchem extensive benefits. Gorinchem became the eighth largest city of Holland. At the end of the Middle Ages Gorcum’s most characteristic building was completed: the Great Tower. Special about this building is the fact that the bottom three parts are slanted, while the other parts are standing straight. The Tower shows a bend. The neighbouring church was built centuries later. The condition of the gothic cruciform church in this place was so poor that it was torn down in 1844. In 1850, the present church arose.

In battle

The Reformation did not pass by Gorinchem unnoticed. In 1566 the first Protestant church service was held. Six years later, shortly after the start of the Eighty Year War, the city was conquered by the so called Watergeuzen, (a name assumed by the confederacy of Calvinist Dutch nobles who opposed Spanish rule in the Netherlands, operating at sea). They took nineteen priests and monks prisoner, the so called Martyrs of Gorinchem, who were taken to Den Briel where they were hanged.

The city walls from the 14th century were replaced by fortifications around 1600. This new rampart with eleven bastions is still present, almost in its entirety. Because of the new rampart an area was enclosed which was twice as large as before. In the fortification, four city gates were inserted, of which one is still there, the Dalempoort. The prosperity of the Golden Age was followed by decline in the 18th century. At the end of the French occupation a low point was reached when the retreating French troops entrenched themselves in the stronghold Gorinchem. They surrendered after a siege that lasted three months and caused the city a great deal of damage as a result of shelling.


Gorinchem skyline
Gorinchem © Annet Ardesch

After the recession, the economic growth was stimulated by the rise of industry. The production of steamships led to an intensification of shipping. Channels were dug and a railway was constructed, which made the city easier to reach. The population grew. The centre of the city started to become crowded, so crowded even that it became necessary to build houses outside the ramparts. This happened at the start of the 20th century. The first extensions were the areas Lingewijk and West. After the Second World War, houses were rapidly built in the north-western part of the municipality. In the seventies, this extension was completed. In that same period, the construction of the neighbourhood Wijdschild commenced, in easterly direction. This was extended in 1985 with the neighbourhood of Laag Dalem. Now, work has started on the new neighbourhoods Laag Dalem Zuid and Hoog Dalem. At present, Gorinchem has a population of approximately 35,000.