Kolmen

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17, -45.52493, 143.05929
Kolmen
City
flag of Kolmencoat of arms of Kolmen
FlagCoat of arms
CountryForrintië
 • ProvinceKasselen
 • MunicipalityThoijen
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DemonymKolmenaar
Area
 • intra muros0,0092 km2
Elevation421 m (1381 ft)
Population
 • Estimate (2016)61
 • Density6616/km2
Websitewww.kolmen.fo

Kolmen is a settlement in the Forrintian province of Kasselen, that is famous for its claim of being the smallest city in the world. Although Kolmen, with only 61 permanent residents living within its medieval walls, is an insignificant place, it does have official city status, as it received city rights in the 14th century that were never retracted. Nowadays its 15th, 16th and early 17th century buildings, surrounded by a completely restored city wall, are a tourist attraction.

Geography

Kolmen is situated at an elevation of 421m, in the densely forested hilly landscape of north Kasselen, about 7km west of the border with Meernbant. The hill Kolmen was built on consists of thick alternating layers of fine limestone and dolostone. Part of the upper layer of limestone has eroded over time and a relatively shallow layer of humus alows for some agriculture to take place. Several springs are located close to the city and two streams flow around the city and surrounding fields and forrest.

History

House in Kolmen

Signs of early human occupation of the limestone hills surrounding Kolmen include findings of late paleolithic tools and arrowheads. The limestone caves in the area used by hunter-gatherers as shelters contain remnants of ancient campfires and piles of bones of prey animales. The oldest evidence of permanent residences on the hill Kolmen is situated on, were excavated in 1969 when the remnants of farmhouses from the 5th century BCE were discovered under the fields surrounding Kolmen. The first buildings that would determine the current lay out and look of the town were build in the late 10th century. This single row of houses was partly fortified and a small watchtower was build on the location of the current belltower. The first time Kolmen was mentioned in a document is in 1044 under the name of 'Kalmane', when the town is mentioned as a stop along one of the trading routes from southeren Kasselen to the cities in Meernbant.

City rights were conferred on the town in 1107, in the hope that it would prosper and grow into a place of commerce. It was not uncommon for small isolated places to get city rights in Forrintia, as local rulers hoped that this would lead to the economic development of the area. Another reason why this, untill then small, village got city rights, was the proximity to the border with Meernbant. Designed to serve as a fortified outpost, the first city wall was built 1112. Population growth always remained small, as the surrounding region was poor, sparsely populated and agricultural expansion was made difficult by the presence of limestone and dolomite close under the surface.

The city reached its zenith during the latter half of the 16th century, when the city's population grew to roughly 370 people. Although it was very small compared to other cities in Forrintia, it was still able to economically dominate the surrounding region, as most people from nearby villages could only legally sell their produce on the markets of Kolmen. In 1589 a cloth merchant from Oirsburg entered the city gates, intend on participating in the summer fair. He soon fell ill however and died within two days. In the sweltering summer heat the plague quickly spread through the overcrowded city and three months later the population had been reduced to 240 souls. This disaster set in motion a long period of decline, exercebrated by changing trade routes, like safer shipping across the river Ewa. As the economy shrunk over the years, a number of families let the city. Multiple houses were abandoned or sold and the families that remained often bought or simply took the empty houses and merged them with their own. This has created an interesting streetscape, where houses sometimes have two different façades.

By the beginning of the 20th century Kolmen had turned into an impoverished agricultural village. The lack of economical activity drove young people to seek their fortune elsewhere and the population started to dwindle. A change in economic prospects happened in the 1960's. Two factors were responsible for the revival of the city. A major contributor to the name recognition of Kolmen were the paintings by Johannes Optoor. The painter, who had lived and painted in Kolmen from 1892 tot 1903, remained a relatively obscure artist during his lifetime. After his death in 1942 however his paintings slowly became more popular, culminating in an exposition of his work in the contemporary art museum of Viaden in 1964. This coincided with in explosive growth of car-ownership in the latter half of the 1950's and the first half of the 1960's combined with and increase in spare time, which in turn led to day-trip tourism. Tourism has been growing ever since and through the years amenities like restaurants, hotels and campings have sprung up in the region to cater to tourists.

Tourism and sights

Nearly every person in Kolmen is dependent on the tourists that come to visit the city. Its claim of being the smallest city in the world is used as a marketing tool to attract visitors to Kolmen. The city has several facilities for tourists: two hotels, a bed&breakfast, two restaurants, a museum and a souvenir shop.
The bell tower of the Saint Ludger Church in Kolmen

The current city wall and gates were completed in 1477. The main gate to the city is the "Grote Poort" (Big Gate) on the south side of the city. It has a large gablestone with the city's coat of arms above the entrance to the city. The second gate to the north, called the "Kleine Poort" (Small Gate), used to lead to the main route to Meernbant. Nowadays however this road is reduced to a track that leads to Sint-Ingesbron, as the main route is replaced by a provincial road that runs to the west of Kolmen. In some parts of the city the houses are build directly against the city wall and as a consequence these houses only have very narrow, easily defended windows on the upper floors on the wall side, or no windows at that side at all. The youngest addition is the "Valkentoren" or falcon tower. This round bastion was built to add to the defences of the western part of the wall and was erected in 1547. It got its name from the falcons that were kept here by the local magistrate for hunting.

Though rather small, the Kolmer Museum makes for an interesting visit. The ground floor is dedicated to the history of Kolmen and has exhibits about the city, local agriculture and the crafts practiced throughout the centuries in the settlement. On the first floor a remarkable exposition about local religious practices can be visited, with information about the churches in and around Kolmen, but also about the bi-annual pilgrimages to the shrine of saint Inge in Sint-Ingesbron and locally crafted religious artwork. The second floor is dedicated to the life and works of Johannes Optoor, who lived and painted in Kolmen from 1892 to 1903. Changing expositions are organized in the attic with works either from aspiring artists born in the region, or from artists that have depicted Kolmen and its surroundings in their art. The museum is open from wednesday to saturday.

De Oude Herberg (the Old Tavern) is one of the largest buildings in the city and is currently in use as a Hotel. Contrary to what its name suggests the main function of this building was to house the local government, although the building also contained stables and lodgings for traveling merchants. For centuries the the city's election took place in the portico that is bordering the main square. It was enlarged in the latter half of the 18th century, when the house next to the Oude Herberg was incorporated into the old building. The former courtroom is currently being used to serve breakfast and lunch in.

Saint Egis Chapel

The Saint Ludger Church, situated in the south of the city, was constructed on the site of several earlier churches. The current church was built in the early 17th century after the previous church burned down to ground. The facade was completely renewed in 1756, shows large influences of Ewalandian classical architectuur and was built by the same architect that build de Nieuwe Kerk in Kleigerswaard. The seperate bell tower that stands to the northeast of the church was built in 1497 and also served as a watchtower. It was restaurated in 1756 together with the facade of the church. The ground floor of the bell tower served as a weigh house, where goods where weighed during markets and for tax purposes, while the first floor was used to detain prisoners. The tower is open from tuesday to saterday and can be climbed. From the top of the tower visitors have a wonderful view of the city and the surrounding countryside.

South of the city stands the funerary chapel dedicated to Saint Egis. The early 12th century chapel is made of local sandstone and contains several colourful fresco's from the 13th century that, together with the rest of the building, were extensively restaurated in 2006. The oldest graves are found in the building itself, as the floor is completely covered in tombstones dating from the 14th to the 18th century. The graves around the building in de graveyard are much newer and the current citizens of Kolmen are still burried there.

Brandy

De Bleke Ruyter distillery

The city is home to one distillery, called De Bleke Ruyter (the Pale Rider). The distillery, that has been operational for the last 327 years, produces a locally famous brandy, called Antvul. The recipe of this brandy contains linden flowers and seven different herbs and has been kept a family secret since the founding of the company. According to the townspeople this beverage had been produced in the area for many centuries and claim that it was the early tribes that settled this area, that came up with the drink. Healing properties are ascribed to Antvul, as it is supposed to be beneficial against heart diseases and to calm the nerves. The brandy contains about 45% alcohol and has a deep golden colour after aging in oak barrels for three to five years. It is typically drunk on its own, mostly after (heavy) meals, although it is also extensively used in the region for preparing venison.

Elections

For many years the city Kolmen was known for its peculiar way of electing a burgomaster, i.e. the local magistrate. Everyone who was interested in becomming the burgomaster placed a 2m pole in the portico of the city hall, which is now the Oude Herberg, on election day. These poles were heavily decorated on the first and last 50cm with carved symbols that clarified to whom the pole belonged. These symbols could be coats of arms or figures symbolizing the trade of the candidate. After a church service at 10 a.m. the citizens of Kolmen were allowed to make a carve with a special knife, now kept in the Kolmer Museum, on the smooth central part of the pole under the supervision of the parish priest. At 5 p.m. all carves on the poles were counted and the person with the most carves on his pole became the new burgomaster. This tradition seized to exit, after major reforms in Forrintia in 1789 abolished the autonomy of the cities and noble holdings and established municipalities with burgomasters appointed by the Royal Gorvernment in Viaden

After the Royal Government decided in 1972 that it was in the best interest of Kolmen and the surrounding villages to merge with a neighbouring municipality, the population of the tiny city learned that this meant that their home was about to lose its city rights and thus its official city status, as no more than one city can exist within each municipality. The proud citizens rose up and started to petition the goverment, as they feared that their livelyhood in the tourism industry was at stake. Their protests gained widespread sympathy and support, after the national media picked up on the story. A compromise was reached where Kolmen could de jure remain a city with its own burgomaster, but would de facto be incorporated in the municipality Thoijen as all of the employees and municipal services, except for the mayor, would move to nearby Thoijen.

This new "mayor" was to be an paid civil servant of the municipality Thoijen and have limited authority over new regulations within Kolmen and be the point of contact for the police and fire departments, while also being the representative of the people of Kolmen to the city councel of Thoijen. Kolmen's old city hall was sold to a hotel chain and a new office for the mayor was created in the chamber above the Grote Poort. The citizens were promised that they could elect their new representitive to quell any futher protest. The people of Kolmen seized this opportunity to reinstate their ancient tradition of "pole-voting" and have since held elections every year.

Trivia

  • There are no official streetnames and the adresses of the residents are simply "Kolmen" followed by a number.
  • The Saint Ludger Church and Kolmen's rustic environment are a popular venue for weddings, even for people outside of the city and as a result there are almost twice as many weddings each year as there are people living the city.
  • In 1993 a mass grave of victims of the plague 1589 were discovered in a field close to the city. Most of the remains are on display in museums in Viaden en Felda, although a small amount of artefacts and bones are on display in the Kolmer Museum

.