Rotterdam is a divided city. Not by the diverse population, but by a majestic river dividing the city in two sides. That river is called de Nieuwe Maas. If you come from south of the river, you live ‘op Zuid’ (on South), but people from north of the river can live in West, in North, in East or just in the center. Notice how the preposition changes if you either live south or north of the river. On versus in.
Rotterdam was founded on the north bank, and was actually named after another river, the Rotte. When the city was expanding they went all directions, except south. They simply couldn’t, because of the river. In 1591 the city did buy a part of the island of Feijenoord, which was the first jump southwards.
But only in 1895 when the municipal annexation took place of the town of Charlois, Rotterdam really started developing on the south bank. The city was growing rapidly and was in desperate need for space to expand the harbour. Large warehouses and docks were built around the Charlois area. To house all the laborers new neighbourhoods were built, of which Feijenoord was the first. Most of the newcomers came from the southern provinces of Zeeland and Noord-Brabant. People from north of the river looked down on them and called Rotterdam-Zuid the Boerenzij (Farmer’s Side).
At first the only connection between north and south was a ferry, but in 1870 a bridge was built to connect the south bank with the Noordereiland. In 1878 the next bridge was built, to connect the Noordereiland with the north bank and thus the first land connection between the two banks was a fact. this bridge was named after king Willem III and was called the Willemsbrug (William’s Bridge).
Nowadays there are 5 connections between the two banks, three bridges and two tunnels:
- Willemsbrug (1878)
- Van Brienenenoordbrug (1965)
- Erasmusbrug (1996)
- Maastunnel (1942)
- Beneluxtunnel (1967)
Next to these tunnels there are actually two more tunnels, but only serve as train and subway tunnels.
The first bridge to connect the two banks. Built in 1878 and named after the ruling king, Willem III. The bridge in the picture above is actually the second Willemsbrug and replaced the first one 1981. The bridge played a major part in WWII when Dutch marines held the north bank of the river and prevented the Germans from crossing it using the Willemsbrug. The defense was a lot more fierce than expected by the Nazis, who expected to take the bridge with ease. A drastic measurement was taken to have the Dutch opposition surrender, which would go down in history as the Rotterdam Blitz. On May the 14th of 1940 a group of 54 bombers dropped over 1300 bombs on Rotterdam, leaving the city center completely devastated.
Already before the war there were plans to replace the bridge. But because of lack of money a new bridge was finally rebuilt in 1981. Remarkable about the bridge is that both the entrances have a 90 degrees angle. Nowadays the red painted bridge forms a stark contrast to the pale blue of the Erasmusbrug.
The Erasmusbrug is one of the most well known icons of Rotterdam. It’s a combined cable-stayed and bascule bridge and construction began in 1986 and was completed in 1996. The cable-stayed bridge section has a single 139 metre-high asymmetrical pale blue pylon with a prominent horizontal base, earning the bridge its nickname “The Swan”.
Because of the location and design the bridge is often used in commercials and events. The television-broadcasted national fireworks at New Year’s is always lit from the Erasmusbrug. The bridge also plays a major part in the Rotterdam Marathon and is crossed twice during the parcours.
The Hefbrug is not actually used anymore but still a landmark of the city, earning monumental status. The original name of this bridge is de Koningshavenbrug, but people simply call it “De Hef”. It’s a vertical-left bridge which was part of train connection of the north and the south bank. The part connecting the north bank to the Noordeiland was demolished in 1993 and De Hef (connecting Noordereiland with the south bank) was scheduled for demolition too.
But a large group of Rotterdammers opposed demolition and petitions were made to keep the bridge. The bridge was made into a monument and serves two purposes nowadays. The first one is to serve as a memory to where trains once used to cross the river. The second one is as a breeding spot for peregrine falcons. Oh, and maybe a third purpose too, to just serve as an awesome addition to the city’s collection of remarkable buildings.