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Castellum culture park in Leidsche Rijn opens doors

It was world news in 1997. In one of the first building sites of Vinex district Leidsche Rijn, archaeologists found remains of a Roman boundary line, walls of forts, a cargo ship and all kinds of utensils. Digging it up and building houses was no longer an option. In 2007, it was decided to build a cultural park: a castellum. A modern version of a Roman fort bringing together various functions. A cultural park with the ship as the main attraction in a museum setting, an urban farm, a theatre (Podium Hoge Woerd) and a café-restaurant. Castellum Hoge Woerd is there: the doors opened on 30 August.

The first outside impression of Castellum Hoge Woerd is indeed that of a fortress. The brown walls built of wood and partly plastic (Trespa) have the typical battlements of a fortress. Once inside, we immediately see as eye-catcher the elliptical nave. Almost everything around it is white and there are many vistas into the large courtyard, giving the building a nice open character. A still immaculate footpath leads upstairs to the theatre. It is a small flat-floor theatre with 229 seats, equipped with state-of-the-art technology and a back wall of beautiful windows.

Castellum entrance. Photo on Facebook

Harm Lambers, director of Podium Hoge Woerd, explains the Castellum and theatre. "This building would never have been there if the Roman remains had not been excavated. Early in our era, forts stood here for three hundred years. The Leidsche Rijn was the border of the Roman Empire in the Netherlands. It is unique that there is now a theatre here as well." Mindful of the municipality of Utrecht's heritage programme, the largest urban expansion in the Netherlands started in Leidsche Rijn twenty years ago. This residential area was to include space for urban farms, a centre for nature and environmental education, and a theatre.

,,It is irreverent to call it a business centre, but it was decided by the architects from Skets firm to have all functions mixed together. They did not opt for separate pavilions with their own entrance. Castellum is not a remake of an old fort but a modern re-interpretation. They did follow the contours, the wall lines of the forts of the time, exactly. The battlements, too, are a quotation of what the Castellum may have been like. The ramparts are six metres wide, while authentically there was talk of two or three metres. But because it was not possible to drive piles everywhere, the whole thing would become too narrow and heavy. The ramparts were widened, creating usable space. That is now where the stables for the animals are; there will also be offices."

Only at the spot where the theatre rests on the foundations of the building did four piles go into the ground. "The view of today's archaeologists is: leave the ground with remains, map it and describe it. So that many generations later the experts know more about it and can do more with it."

The ship

In recent years, austerity measures and mismanagement have caused many theatres to close. And now, against the spirit of the times, a whole new theatre?

''By now, 70,000 people live here and the plan was to have a theatre here anyway. Besides, Utrecht is a benevolent municipality and a relatively large amount is spent per resident on arts and culture. The support is there."

Theatre Kikker on the Ganzenmarkt in Utrecht was commissioned Podium Hoge Woerd to operate. A company with two branches, in other words. But there is no question of conveniently presenting the same programme in both theatres. ''The scale demanded here is not similar. Hoge Woerd is not an annex. One difference is that Theatre Kikker in the city of Utrecht offers a specific signature in programming and thus guides the audience inside. In Leidsche Rijn, more thought is given to the audience and what they would like to see."

[Tweet "Podium Hoge Woerd is not an annex of Theatre Kikker"].

The theatre at the fort also provides space for theatre performances featuring light music, jazz, cabaret and youth theatre. "There are many children of primary school age living here in the area. We are also creating an educational line-up for that." A major desire is to make theatre ourselves. ,,We have mobilised artists and actors from the city to present five theatrical stories about the history of Leidsche Rijn and Castellum: The Castellum stories. Whether education will be the main focus? No, definitely not. After all, we first have to wait and see if we are going to be able to provide our performances selling cards at all. Everything is new. They and we all have to discover that. But we are definitely confident, otherwise we wouldn't have started it."

Castellum Hoge Woerd is freely accessible daily from 10am to 10pm. For the address and more information, visit:


Rudolf Hunnik

Rudolf Hunnik is a cultural journalist, trainer and film programmer. For more information visit www.diversityathome.nlView Author posts

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