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My home town Deventer: your next exotic destination

April 5, 2011

We travel back to the year 806.

Near a tree by a river an Anglosaxon monk turns his head to look back at where he came from. His eyes follow a river meandering through green meadows. Parallel to that the dusty road he traveled. The landscape is beautiful, but that was not why he traveled that long.

The monk is tired, his feet hurt. Slowly turning back his head he now watches the river right in front of him. He watches the small settlement on the other side where people gather and trade.

He knows he needs to cross the river. Visions of a church are passing through his mind. His church. A church for him to build in order to continue his important work: to spread Christianity. And so he did.

View on Lebuinus


His name was Lebuïnus and the small settlement he watched was called Deventer. He raised his wooden church as planned. Two hundred years later, on exactly that same spot, the wooden building was replaced by the first church of stone. It is still there and the impressive gothic tower nowadays is a true landmark of Deventer. After climbing the spiral stairs (220 steps) you have the best view of the river (IJssel) and the stunning landscapes. Guess you already know the name of the church…. Indeed, “Lebuïnus”.

Landscape around Deventer

Fancy to visit?
Deventer is my home town, one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands. Situated only 1 hour from Amsterdam, home to 98,000 people and famous for its spicy gingerbread (Deventer Koek)!
For first-timers it might look like a laid-back, rural city. To some extent it is, but beware that earlier inhabitants were notorious for an act that some of you might find a bit creepy….

But let’s keep that for later on. We start with getting you all into that laid-back, rural feeling. When you walk the mediaeval city centre of Deventer, you switch between past and present. It is a web of winding cobblestone streets, all ending (or starting if you want to) on the main square (De Brink). You will discover small alleys where suddenly the buzz of the main square mutes. For a moment you drown in history, quickly emersing again when you return to the busy square.



Some call Deventer a miniture version of Amsterdam. A fun thing to do is to wander the small alleys and look for remarkable, dedicated shops. Like this one for brooms! Have you ever shopped for brooms like this? Believe it or not, we are proud to have them.

Interior of the broom shop

I almost forgot…that creepy tradition. In the past, Deventer was not a fun place to be for criminals, especially those who counterfeited money. Not because we threw them in jail, but even worse, we boiled them in oil. Alive….poor counterfeiters.

I am not kidding, just look at this cettle. This cettle was used to boil people! The sign below the cettle is in Dutch but explains it all. That horrible thing is on display for everyone to watch, bit sinister don’t you think? Still fancy visiting our town??


Dutch description of cettle on display 2

Sure you do! Deventer is an easy daytrip if you are in Amsterdam. We would love to see you here! To convince you even more, here some facts and figures of interesting things you probably did not know before:

1. Bridge Too Far (for movie freaks!)
Do you remember ‘A Bridge Too Far’, the Second World War movie? The bridge you saw on the second picture in this post played an important role. All the scenes on the Bridge were shot in Deventer.

Bridge too far

2. Largest European open-air book
In August you can buy books. The largest European (open-air) book fair takes place in the town centre and along the banks of the river IJssel: 6 kilometers of books.

3. Dickens, back in time Victorian style.
End of December Deventer takes you back in time, in Dickens style. The oldest streets and alleys are dressed up in Victorian Style, including many people playing a Dickens tale. The event attracts around 135,000 visitors in just two days!

Bergkwartier in Dickens style

Dickens Festijn Deventer

This is the story of my home town. Hope to see you there soon!

Everywhere is Illuminated” is a great post by modern-mythologist Mark Robertson of The Panamericans. His post talks about having the right kind of wanderlust and, more importantly, that going local sometimes beats the next checklist of Lonely Planet. Find the mythic, historical, and scandalous history of your place.

Pictures of Deventer by night by Henk Melenhorst (Deventer)

From → Europe

  1. I think I have no choice but to come to Deventer to meet you, dear Emiel.
    So glad you took the time to write the good, the bad and the ugly about your city. It shows so much honest and great story telling. I really enjoyed the read.
    Keep writing; it is getting better with each single post and you’ll never get empty compliments from me. Only the truth :)!

    • Farnoosh, you know what’s great about that? When you visit my home town, we cannot miss each other! Because I live here! But now that I think of it, I might be out traveling…
      Don’t worry, just kidding, I’ll be your personal guide.
      And thanks for telling the truth about my writing and blogging performance. It won’t take long before I start calling your Brock-sensei…

  2. Your town is beautiful!!! David has been dying to go back to Holland (we went to Amsterdam about two years ago), and I love summer book fairs! What’s the weather like in August?

    (Boiling people in oil and then hanging up the human soup pot is VERY sinister indeed. What a dark history…)

  3. “Visions of a church are passing through his mind. His church. A church for him to build in order to continue his important work: to spread Christianity. And so he did.” I love how you describe the peripatetic monk’s dream.

    Sometimes I feel the stones of old cathedrals call me into the ascetic life.

    I feel Lebuinus’ soul. Then, I love how you take us on a tour of some prime artifacts (the cettle, a broom store, movie references).

    Deventer is illuminated:)

    Oh, and thanks for the nod!

    I want to go there.

    • Mark, that was exactly my intention: to illuminate Deventer. I was already writing this post when you published yours on Everywhere is Illuminated. You inspired me to take it to the next level.
      Believe it or not, I have a post about my grandmother ready for publication. And I just noticed a great post about your grandfather! We really have to sit around that digital fire, the part of me facing that fire is already starting to glow…

  4. What a beautiful place! And so close to Amsterdam. We have it on our list of places to visit. We had to cancel a trip to Amsterdam a year or so ago and will reschedule again once our current gig is up- we will add this to our list when we arrive! Love the oil pot- I’ll be sure and show the Offspring- they’ll love it. A trip highlight.

    • Hi Emily! Why am I not surprised your Offspring will just love that oil pot?! 🙂 I guess they will insist on you writing a complete post on all the possibilities once they could own such a pot..
      Thanks for you comment and I would love to meet you in our low country!

      • Emiel you’ll hear us when we get within about 20 miles of the town. Depending on how long we’d been gone at that juncture we would have to use the pots to boil Offspring #1’s clothing…You’re on our list…. Hide now. And definitely hide the kids.

  5. Deventer seems fascinating and rich in history! What an excellent write-up for your hometown Emiel. You definitely got my attention and am daydreaming of visitng there someday now. The pictures of the old buildings are beautiful and somehow seem mysterious. Nope, the old cettle didn’t scare me, it stirred my interest in this town 🙂 Thanks for sharing Emiel!

    • Hello Tien, thanks for being one of my biggest fans! 🙂 There is indeed a lot to discover in Deventer. You have to live here for a couple of years to really notice all the great details and stories.

  6. Your home town – Deventer is beautiful. I love the charming historic building and the small alleyway on your photos. The boil people in oil part was scary but I guess during the older days punishment is different then modern day. I didn’t know about this place until you wrote a review about it. If i ever visit Netherland, I would want to stop by this town.

    • Great to see you here Sarah! It definitely has its charmes. NYC probably has its own charmes, but we will check that out next month!

  7. Dude! I was born and raised in Deventer and am living there again now. I usually take it for granted – yes it’s both pretty and ugly, but how often do we look up and around to see what our own city looks like? I think our hometown is the one place that we don’t look at through tourist eyes, but we should sometimes. Your story and pictures really make it stand out. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Now that’s great way to start a comment: Dude! Esther, your comment is spot on. We don’t look at our home town like this, we take it for granted. We travel the world without looking at our own backyard.. Thanks!

  8. Chantal permalink

    Bedankt voor de geschiedenisles. Je hebt het prachtig beschreven.

    • Wat leuk Chantal! Ladies and gentlemen, Chantal is my younger sister. Dank voor je reactie en let vooral op mijn volgende blog post!

  9. Henk permalink

    If I wasn’t already living in Deventer I would absolutely visit this town 😉 Great blog and a perfect description. Small mistake: Lebuinus already traveled to Deventer in 768 (and not 806) according to the Deventer canon. He died in 773 or 774.

    Nice photos :-)))

    • Henk, I am so happy you corrected me. This means the history of Lebuinus is even older than I expected. I am glad you liked the post. You ‘Deventer-by-night’ shots are one of kind. I already got a great response on these pictures on Twitter. Thanks for letting me use them.

  10. Wow! You live in such an interesting town. Beautiful photographs as always and the story-telling is great! I was so intrigued by the monk turning to look at the river and then how the church came about. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing and I hope I get to visit your town some time in the near future.

    • @Foodtable: thank you very much! And you know what, I didn’t even touch on the subject of food and dining out..that’s awesome as well!

  11. I like the way you start your story, feels like reading the first chapter of a novel 🙂
    The picture of Deventer at night is just so beautiful. By the way, imagining those counterfeiters inside the boiling oil in the cettle is indeed sinister, but this kind of story is always interesting to learn.

  12. So nice to be reminded of history. I was born in Copenhagen and moved around Europe and now live in California, where I miss traditions from Europe.
    Thanks for the photos and a reminder of what life is like in Europe.

  13. Thanks Gutsy Writer, you know from your stay in Europe that history is all around here. There are so many great cities! So many people don’t notice the beauty of their home town, you really have to look and notice. Speak to you soon!

  14. Thanks for the interesting tour of your town. Loved the post title! 🙂 My brother lives in Bremen, Germany i.e. not too far away from Deventer.

    • Hi Lisa,
      I know Bremen, but for us it is quite far 🙂
      It takes you around 2 hours to drive from one side of Holland to the other side. You can imagine how we feel about driving distances of 4 hours and more LOL

      • LOL This coming from somebody who travels all over the world! Here in South Africa we are quite used to driving those distances.

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