How do you protect a city? How do you make sure everyone can feel safe? On 12 September 2020, a new exhibition opens at Centraal Museum, The fortified city: History of a City’s Defenses. The exhibition explores the age-old quest for safety and the defensive role of city walls. The fortified city will be on show until 17 January 2021.

Utrecht was the first city in the Netherlands to be granted the right to build defensive works. For centuries it fell to citizens to guard the walls and to support the city army in times of danger. But walls could only fulfil their defensive purpose if they were continually adapted to changes in warfare. The invention of the airplane finally made walls obsolete.

How they were built, how they were manned, the sieges that took place and the impact on citizens’ lives: all this and more is explored in the fascinating story of Utrecht’s defensive works, which existed from 1122 to around 1830. The story of course includes the changes that were made to the works, especially in the sixteenth century, their demolition in the nineteenth century, and their continued significance today.
In addition to many remarkable paintings (including some loan pieces never exhibited before by Herman Saftleven, Joost Cornelisz Droochsloot and Salomon van Ruysdael), as well as medieval miniatures, drawings and age-old weaponry, the exhibition also presents a number of specially made 3D reconstructions and animations.

A number of specialists have been asked to link the past to the present, including historian Beatrice de Graaf, Philosopher Laureate Daan Roovers, and the Dutch Chief of Defence, Rob Bauer. Urban planner Zef Hemel explores the relationship between the number of women that live and work in a modern city, and the levels of prosperity and safety.

Children between the ages of six and twelve will also enjoy visiting the exhibition. An elaborate scavenger hunt has been developed specifically for them, providing a playful approach to learning about the history of the city’s defensive works. They can also discover how heavy medieval armoury was, and a life-size catapult measuring no less than 15 metres is on display.

In The Annex (the last hall at the end of the galleries), a video installation by Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou Rahme offers a contemporary perspective on the theme of the exhibition.