Why do we see a man sitting on four chained slaves at the wharf along the Oudegracht? Is Sinkel’s Department Store (Winkel van Sinkel) a relic of colonial times?
Do these things strike you when you are walking in Utrecht? Or did you miss both places? If so, it is time to put on your walking shoes and take some time to start looking.
In 1863 the Dutch as one of the last colonial powers ended their involvement in slavery and the slave trade. The year 2013 not only celebrates the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht but also the fact that slavery was abolished 150 years ago. Although slavery was prohibited in the Netherlands, Dutch traders united in the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) and West Indies Company (WIC) profited hugely from both the trade in slaves and slavery itself. Many buildings in the historical center of Utrecht show small and sometimes well hidden details that remind us of the wealth that was accumulated in those days during the 16th through to the 19th century.
Whatever we may think of our colonial past or involvement in slavery, fact is that we can still find the beautifull embellishments dating back to those days. It is not only fun to trace the various locations, but also to find out why they were made.
The GPS tour ‘Traces of Slavery in Utrecht’ shows us a number of places in the historical center of Utrecht where we can see or trace links to the Dutch involvement in slavery. This ranges from the embellishment of the buildings to places where people have lived at some moment in time. Not all that is shown dates back centuries. For instance we find a pedestal beneath a street lamp along the wharfs at the Oudegracht that depicts a wealthy man enjoying his pipe resting on the shoulders of four chained men, clearly slaves. The stone was carved in 1972 as part of a successful restoring of the historical canal wharfs. But do not worry, there is plenty of history in the old town center and we will take you walking for about three hours if you are interested.
The GPS tour is an initiative from Kosmopolis Utrecht and the Centre of the Humanities (University of Utrecht). An accompanying guide can be bought at the local Tourist Office.