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Word of the Day: gracht (canal)

Once upon a time, when Germanic tribes like the Cananefates were trying to survive in these coastal marshes and dunes, when the Romans were cursing that they had been sent out here to these chilly and wet borders of their great empire, when the coastline was continually moving inwards and outwards, when the sea and the rivers were freakishly invading this delta, when nature was a capricious merciless force that no one could manage, there was a Roman general called Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo who ordered the construction of a canal between the Meuse in the south and the Rhine in the north. It was the year 47 CE.


Why did this general (his huge statue can be admired in Voorburg) wish for such a time and energy consuming project? Was he afraid that his soldiers might get bored in this boring environment? No, he had this GRACHT (canal) dug because it was safer to transport cargo via a canal than over sea. In those days Voorburg was called Municipium Aelium Cananefatium (the capital of the Cananefates) and later it changed its name to Forum Hadriani.

The GRACHT van Corbulo (The Fossa Corbulonis) remained in use up to about 275 when the Romans had enough of the area and returned to warmer climates. In 1989 traces of the old canal were discovered in the Rietvink area of Leidschendam and a small part of the old canal was reconstructed together with a Roman-style bridge (see photo). Would you like to see it in reality? Here it is:

About a thousand years later the Dutch copied the Roman idea and dug another GRACHT between the Meuse and the Rhine not far from where the original canal was. This canal is still there and it is officially called the RIJN-SCHIEKANAAL. The various parts have the following names travelling from Rotterdam-Overschie to Leiden: de Delftse Schie, de Delftsche Vliet, de Trekvliet en de Vliet.

There are wonderful cycle paths along the canal. A trip from Delft to Leiden will take about an hour and a half, but you’ll not regret it.

Of course you know the word GRACHT, canal. It is one of the first words that tourists learn when travelling through the country. But you would not associate it with a canal like the VLIET, I am sure. GRACHT reminds you of the GRACHTEN in Amsterdam, Leiden or Delft. The Hague also has its fair share of lovely GRACHTEN. This year Amsterdam celebrates its 400th anniversary of its Canal District (Grachtengordel). The picturesque seventeenth-century canals were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010.

The GRACHTEN in The Hague were also constructed in the 17th century. Most of them were filled in in the 19th century because they had been used as sewers and were therefore very dirty and smelly.

The ancient city of Delft thanks its name to the fact that a GRACHT was dug there in the Middle Ages. The name DELFT used to be DELF, which is a form of the verb DELVEN (to dig, to delve).

GRACHT used to be ‘graft’ in the MIddle Ages which like ‘delft’ was a form of the verb GRAVEN (to dig).