Amersfoort is an originally medieval city to the east of Amsterdam and Utrecht. It is at the edge of their commuting area, and has expanded in recent years. The city centre (the medieval city) is full of historic buildings and streets, and there is accessible forest into the west and south. The city of Amersfoort (municipality) has about 148,000 inhabitants, the urban region about 285,000.
Amersfoort takes its name from a ford (voorde) in the Eem river, which was once called the ‘Emer’ or ‘Amer’, at the edge of higher ground, the Utrecht ridge. The ford is on the shortest route across low marshy ground, from the ridge to the nearest higher ground on the east. As a result, Amersfoort was, and still is, on the main road from the western Netherlands to northern Germany,and the later Amsterdam – Berlin railway followed this route. The low-lying area between the Utrecht and Veluwe ridges is called the Valley of Gelderland, Gelderse Vallei, and it is now a zone of intensive farming.
The first written record of the settlement was in 1028. In the 12th century the Bishopric of Utrecht fortified it (because of its strategic location), and in 1259 granted it city rights. The first city wall of stone was built in the late 13th century.
Around 1380 a new wall was built: some of the city gates still survive. The city was a late medieval pilgrimage centre, and in 1444 began the construction of a cathedral. Most of it was destroyed in an explosion in 1787, but the tower survives, one of the highest church towers in the Netherlands. The 98 meter late-medieval eye-catcher is called Onze Lieve Vrouwentoren. Because of its visibility, it was the starting point for the accurate triangulation of the country, and it is still the true origin of the Dutch national grid (coordinates 463.000, 155.000).
Amersfoort’s medieval industries were cloth and beer: in the 18th century it prospered due to the locally-grown tobacco. The railway began the modern expansion. In recent years growth has accelerated, with suburban expansion mainly to the north. During its medieval heyday Amersfoort was both a popular place of pilgrimage as well as an important city in the brewing industry. The oldest of Amersfoorts bars, In Den Grooten Slock, still stands today. The historic brewery, De Drie Ringen, brews excellent beers and is open to the public (from Friday til Sunday from 1 til 7 pm).
The central location allowed Amersfoort to become a major railway hub in the late 19th century. This also increased it’s strategic importance and up until 1980 it was one of the biggest garrison towns of the Netherlands. The military presence is still visible in the army bases (the Bernhardkazerne is still active and housing the Cavalry museum), nearby training grounds, and former airforce base Soesterberg