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Historic city wants to develop cellars into gallery street

Blend of past and present beneath the city

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ARNHEM, the Netherlands - A theme used for the local Monuments’ Open House Day 1993 soon will have ongoing significance in this well-known Eastern Dutch city. ‘Arnhem below the surface,’ literally translated from ‘Arnhem onder de grond,’ has occupied the minds of local civic leaders ever since. They are now planning to spend Dfl. 5.7 million to restore and integrate into the cityscape the 40 medieval cellers below Arnhem’s Rijnstraat. The attraction has been dubbed, “A city beneath the city”.

The restoration project aims to put Arnhem’s unseen assets to practical use by creating a gallery of underground boutiques and restaurants, thereby drawing visitors to one of the city’s oldest shopping streets.

Conceptually, planners want to keep the structure in its original condition as much as possible which only would add to the cultural-historical authenticity. Arnhem’s 14th century cellars have their own unique characteristics which set them apart from those elsewhere.

Building code

During a cataloguing drive nearly a decade ago, researchers discovered that Arnhem had as many as one hundred of such underground spaces with the oldest one dating back to the early 1400s when Arnhem’s builders switched from lumber and loam to bricks as their main building component to meet an emerging building code.

Arnhem’s quest has been to employ cultural heritage as part of its economic development. Response to the Open House theme of 1993 suggested a keen interest in the cellars. Meanwhile, reports Heemschut, the watch dog of the country’s huge architectual and monumental heritage, the Dutch approach to such treasures has evolved into one which actually integrates them into regular usage instead of being rare show pieces.

For the most part, the cellars were being used, often for storage. Some simply had been filled in although a few cellars already have high-quality usage such as for boutiques and restaurants. May the Rijnstraat become the place where timelines meet; where the atmosphere of the past blends with the activity of the present, giving history a renewed appeal to future generations. - from Heemschut files.

Heemschut, the alliance for the preservation of cultural- historical monuments, publishes a bimonthly magazine ‘Heemschut’. Heemschut can be reached at Nieuwezijds Kolk 28, 1012 PV Amsterdam, the Netherlands or by e-mail:; or visit their website: