In the thirteenth century AD, the nearby cathedral city of Utrecht was developing into a market town. Also during that period, in around 1260, the first foundations for the then-named Nijenrode Castle were laid at a strategic spot on the narrowest part of the river Vecht. The river was part of the trade route from the town of Utrecht to the Zuiderzee (current-day IJsselmeer), and was situated in an area heavily disputed by the Bishops of Utrecht and the Counts of Holland, so the (moat) water could also be used as a defense mechanism in times of conflict.
The lords of Nijenrode dedicated their castle to the count of Holland. The castle was destroyed in 1481 and again in 1511, and consequently rebuilt. Between 1632 and 1642, proprietor Bernard van den Bongart III changed the building into a country house with the grandeur of a castle, ordering modernization and embellishments.
In 1672, during the French occupation of the Netherlands, Nijenrode Castle became the headquarters of the occupier. When they departed the castle a year later, they set it alight. Johan Ortt, who purchased the caste on 1675, ordered its reconstruction and renovation. Eventually, the Orrt family, grain and cloth merchants from Amsterdam, would own the castle until 1853.
From 1853, two generations of the De Heus family, manufacturers of copper and paper from Utrecht, owned the castle and estate. In 1906, coffee merchant Michiel Onnes bought the by now run-down castle. He ordered extensive restorations, bringing the castle and estate back to their former glory of the mid-seventeenth century. He extended the estate, modernized the living quarters, built the Coach and Gate Houses, and rebuilt the donjon on its medieval foundations – including two extra floors.
In 1930, Onnes had to sell his property to art dealer Jacques Goudstikker. By now, an extensive art collection was housed in the castle. Because he felt it important that the less fortunate would have access to the collection, Goudstikker opened the castle to the public, with a tavern located in the Coach House. As well as art exhibitions, Goudstikker organized concerts and dinners at the castle. His Jewish background forced him to flee the Nazis in 1940, and tragically he perished in an accident aboard the ship bringing him to South America. His art collection was brought to Germany.
After WWII, Goudstikker's widow Desiree transferred ownership of the estate to the Netherlands International Education Institute NOIB, who were already letting the castle. The castle and estate were made suitable for university campus life, and multiple new buildings were added over the years. Ultimately, NOIB was renamed Nyenrode Business Universiteit.
The Nijenrode castle and estate have since their foundation been at (literal) crossroads within the Netherlands, and have therefore always been well-connected!
Nijenrode castle is situated along on of the most important historic trade routes of the Netherlands. From the Middle Ages, the local rivers Vecht and Aa served as the main aquatic trade routes between the city of Utrecht and the sea. In 1952, the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal opened, connecting the port city of Amsterdam to the main shipping route of the Rhine. This busy canal flows to the west of the Nijenrode estate.
Nijenrode is also situated on the main road built by Emperor Napoleon from 1811 onwards to connect Paris to Amsterdam. Then called the Route Impériale 2, its role has now been taken over by the busy A2 motorway, connecting Amsterdam to the southern Netherlands and beyond.
The origins of the name Nijenrode is not quite clear. It has been said that the 'nije' part means 'new' and the 'rode' part means 'reclamation', indicating the origin of the estate and castle, but this cannot be verified. As the Dutch combined letter 'ij' is unknown in the English language, 'Nyenrode' has become the (international) name of this international institute!
Fourteenth-century knight Gijsbrecht II is credited with designing our coat of arms. He combined his father's family's red and gold with the blue and St Andrews crosses of his mother's family crest. You might have seen these same crosses around Amsterdam, as they appear in the city's coat of arms too!
The medieval coat of arms is today in use as Nyenrode's logo. You may also see Gijsbrecht's family colors of gold and red on the castle's window shutters and for example in our student rugby team's jersey.
As far as we know, Nijenrode is the only castle on the world with a manual carillon. The base of our carillon is made out of bells cast especially for Nijenrode castle by the Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough, England, in 1915. In 1940, the carillon was extended to include bells from the nearby Witzand Estate. Finally, in 2015, to celebrate the carillon's centenary, two further bells were added, funded by our alumni. Today, the carillon contains eighteen bells. It is situated in the castle's Bell Tower.
Nyenrode Business Universiteit has its own university carillonist, Jan Willem Achterkamp. On festive and memorial days he plays the carillon and he is also responsible for the daily tunes you hear around the campus.