Dordrecht has a population of 130,000 and is situated in the Dutch province of South Holland. Because it received city rights in 1220, it is technically the oldest city in the Netherlands. Dordrecht is an island, surrounded by four rivers. But thanks to the ferries that connect it with Zwijndrecht, Papendrecht and Sliedrecht, and the 'waterbuses' which sail between Rotterdam and Gorinchem, it is not as isolated as the term 'island' suggests.
The name Dordrecht comes from ‘Thuredrech’ which literally means ‘through stream’. Dordrecht was originally nothing more than a stream created by a flood in 1150 which was used as a passageway by the peat cultivators of the neighbouring villages. Because of the tolls imposed on the passing ships, Dordrecht began to flourish economically in the second half of the 12th century. One hundred years later, it was agreed that any goods shipped on the rivers Lek and Merwede had to be brought to the Dordrecht market. As a result, the city became an important trade centre. This privilege was later extended to cover the Meuse, the Rhine, the Waal and the Hollandse Ijssel, so that all goods shipped on these waters of the province had to be first offered for sale in Dordrecht. It is no wonder then that the city was at its golden age in the 14th century. In 1421, the Saint Elisabeth flood, caused by salt and peat exploitation, washed away dozens of villages and drowned thousands of people. But at the same time, the flood created a beautiful nature area, the Biesbosch. In the 16th century, thanks to Emperor Charles V, the city lost its monopoly and thus by the next hundred years, it lost its leading position to Rotterdam.
Dordrecht was also the centre of Calvinism. In 1618-1619 an important religious meeting, known as the Synod of Dordrecht, took place. This led to the publication of the Statenbijbel, the first Dutch Bible translation and the basis of the modern Dutch language.
A characteristic feature of Dordrecht is the Groothoofd, which was once the fortified port of the city. It was situated in the north at the junction of three rivers, the Old Meuse, de Noord and the Merwede. The Groothoofd Port, built in the 15th century, was the main entrance to the city, and can still be visited today. The gothic Grote Kerk ('Big Church') has an extensive history: the tower dates back to the 12th century, while the church in its whole was not finished until the end of 14th century. The town hall was originally a cloth market constructed by Flemish traders in the 14th century. It has only served as a town hall since the 16th century. In 1572, in the Hof (Court), a very important event in Dutch history took place. Representatives of each city in Holland gathered to declare their independence of Spain and acknowledge Willem, Prince of Orange as the leader of the Dutch state. Three years later, in the Union of Dordrecht, the constitution was established which can be considered as the birth of the independent Dutch state.