Deventer was probably founded by the English missionary Lebuinus
around 768, who built a wooden church on the right bank of River
IJssel. This was not the first human settlement at the location: from
the Bronze Age to about 400 A.D. there was at Colmschate, 4 km east of
the city centre, a settlement; remains of it were excavated between
1981 and 2006. The story, telling that in the Roman age there probably
was a stronghold called Daventria in place, proved to be a fantasy.
The favorable location
has probably seen habitation ever since.
City Rights and Medieval Times
The village of Deventer, already being important because of a trading road crossing the river IJssel, was looted and burnt down by the Vikings in 882. It was immediately rebuilt and fortified with an earthen wall (in the street Stenen Wal remains of this have been excavated and restored). Deventer received city rights in 956. From this date fortifications were built or replaced by stone walls around the city for defense. Between 1000 and 1500, Deventer grew to be a flourishing trade city because of its harbour on the river IJssel, which was reachable for large ships. The city was a member of the Hanseatic League In the 15th century, the city had a common mint, where coins for the 3 IJssel cities Deventer, Zwolle and Kampen were made.
Deventer is the place of birth of Geert Groote and home to his Brethren of the Common Life, a school of religious thought that was of great influence on Thomas a Kempis and Erasmus in later times. It had book printing shops as early as from 1477 on, and an internationally famous Latin School, where the famous scholar Desiderius Erasmus went, when he was a boy.
Between 1500 and 1800 the mass of water flowing through the IJssel decreased, decreasing the importance of Deventer's harbour. The competition of trade centres in Holland, as well as the religious war between 1568 and 1648, brought a decline in the city's economy. In the 18th century, some iron industry came to Deventer. East of it, so-called "oer", a kind of sand containing iron, was found from about 900 onwards. From this material, ore was produced and brought to town. The main road of the villages Okkenbroek, Lettele and Schalkhaar is still named: Oerdijk (Ore Dyke). In the 19th century, Deventer became an industrial town. Bicycles, carpets, tins and cans for foods and drinks, cigars, books, machinery, mattresses were produced until between 1920 and 1970.
World War II
In its long history, Deventer has seen few military engagements ( although it was a garrison city of the Dutch cavalry) but her industrial area and harbour were bombed heavily during World War II. Luckily, her city centre was largely spared and the city has a scenery which has remained largely unchanged for the past few centuries.
A female Jewish poet and writer, Etty Hillesum, lived in Deventer during the war before being deported to Auschwitz.
In Schalkhaar, a village only 2 km north-east of the city centre, a barracks was used by the German occupying forces to train Nazi policemen. The compound is now a centre for asylum seekers.
Deventer has been somewhat popular with the film industry; the famous film A Bridge Too Far shot all of her scenes taking place in nearby Arnhem in Deventer as Arnhem itself no longer had a historic center.
The city's trade and industry is still of some importance. In Deventer
is, among others, a factory producing central heating systems, as well
as an important editor and publisher named Kluwer. Also the famous
Deventer honey cake (Deventer Koek), with a history of over 500 years,
is still produced and sold all over the Netherlands.