Amsterdam canal belt

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Amsterdam canal belt
UNESCO world heritage UNESCO World Heritage Emblem
National territory: NetherlandsNetherlands Netherlands
Type: Culture
Criteria : (i) (ii) (iv)
Reference No .: 1349
UNESCO region : Europe and North America
History of enrollment
Enrollment: 2010  (session 34)
The Amsterdam canal belt
Map from the city book of the Netherlands by Joan Blaeu (1649)

The Amsterdam canal belt is a system of canals ( canals ) and is considered to be exemplary architecture of the Golden Age , which earned Amsterdam the nickname Venice of the North . It was part of an expansion plan that became necessary in the early 17th century to make room for the rapidly growing population of Amsterdam. Work began in 1612 and the construction time was around 40 years.


Because the economy flourished in the Golden Age and more and more people settled in the city, the construction of a canal belt around the previous canals, Singel and Kloveniersburgwal , began at the beginning of the 17th century . If the old canals were defensive trenches, the new canals were intended mainly for the inner-city movement of goods, even if they made an effective contribution to the defense of the city. Their main function was the transport of goods to and from the merchants' houses and warehouses that were built directly on the canals. In addition, the canals were used to drain the marshland that had now been reclaimed and functioned as an open, unappetizing sewer . The canal water was partially renewed by the tide change, but it also had to be helped through locks.


In 1612, on the initiative of the Mayor of Amsterdam, Frans Hendricksz Oetgens van Waveren , the construction of three new main canals was started in the wasteland in the west of the city, outside the Singel between Brouwersgracht and Leidsegracht , according to the plans of city architect Hendrick Jacobsz Staets and city surveyor Lucas Jansz Sinck . In 1658 the breakthrough to the Amstel took place and then further east to the Oostelijke Eilanden . This is how the city got its unique canal system with its typical crescent shape.

As an extension of the main canals on the other side of the Amstel, east of the old town, the Nieuwe Herengracht , Nieuwe Keizersgracht and Nieuwe Prinsengracht were created . According to Johannes Ter Gouw, the names of the canals handed down from 1615 onwards go back to the corresponding titles, but like the simultaneous renaming of the Singel to Koningsgracht (Königsgracht) without reference to a specific person. South of the former city gate Munttoren and thus outside the medieval city, the canal belt was expanded to the east as far as the Amstel from 1660 and one of the most beautiful canals was created: the Reguliersgracht, spanned by seven bridges .

Simultaneously with the construction of the canals, the factories were relocated from the city center to the marshland on the other side of the elegant canal area under the direction of city planner Hendrick Staets , and a workers' residential area was also built there. The French-speaking Huguenots are to this district jardin have called (garden), which later became " Jordaan " spoof was.

Between Herengracht and Prinsengracht, wealthy merchant and banker families settled on the newly reclaimed land, which was divided into narrow, often identical parcels and sold at high prices. The mayor was also at home here. To the west of the Singel, along the Herengracht, you will find the most magnificent canal houses in the whole city with the most beautiful gable decorations. Only the most influential merchants were able to settle here in the 17th century. In view of the accumulation of large, magnificent city palaces, especially around the Koningsplein , the people of Amsterdam still speak reverently of the Gouden Bocht , the "Golden Bend". In the Keizersgracht, named after Emperor Maximilian I, and the Prinsengracht, named after the princes of the House of Orange, there are much more modest, but no less interesting historical quarters.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, around 70 canals were filled in because they were no longer needed, silted up or the health of the residents was threatened by stagnant, contaminated water. After the entire city has long been connected to the sewer system, the water in the canals has been renewed once a week since 1872 by a pumping station and the city fathers became aware of the attractiveness of the canals for tourism, there are always approaches and plans for these old canals - such as the Palmgracht in the Jordaan district, which was filled in in 1895 - to be restored, but this has repeatedly failed due to the considerable costs.

The canal belt has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since August 1, 2010 .


German-speaking travel guides like to divide the canal belt into southern, middle and western, sometimes also eastern, canal belts, although there is no agreement on the exact division and there is no understandable reason for such a division.

The canal belt consists of three main canals, the Heren- , Keizers- and Prinsengracht , which are formed like half concentric circles and together with the medieval Singel moat , which bounded the city in the west until the end of the 16th century, the core of old Amsterdam, enclose today's inner city (Dutch: Binnenstad).

The main canals are connected by numerous cross canals, allegedly there are supposed to be around 160 in total, spanned by almost 1,300 bridges.

The canal belt today

Only elms are tolerated as plants on the banks of the river , because their roots only grow into the depths and there is no risk of them penetrating the canal walls sideways. There are over 2,000 houseboats in the canals that have electricity and water connections. Today the canals are mainly used by tourist boats.

Between Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht is a shopping area with boutiques, galleries and cafes known as the Negen Straatjes (" Nine Streets "). The nine picturesque streets that connect the canals are Reestraat , Hartenstraat , Gast-Huismolensteeg , Berenstraat , Wolvenstraat , Oude Spiegelstraat , Runstraat , Huidenstraat and Wijde Heisteeg .

Only very wealthy citizens could afford to build and live in a magnificent canal house on the canal belt. That's still like that. In addition to private individuals, many companies (banks, insurance companies and law firms) have settled on the canals.

Some of the canal houses, as well as a houseboat in the Prinsengracht, have now been converted into museums and provide insights into the life of the “better society” of the 17th and 18th centuries. The former homes of two well-known merchant families, today Museum Willet-Holthuysen and Museum Van Loon , show original furnishings and the art collections of their former residents.

A little further is the working-class district of De Pijp , which was intended to alleviate the housing shortage in the Jordaan in the 19th century. One of the attractions of the multicultural district is the Albert Cuyp , Amsterdam's and Europe's largest weekly market.


The Westerkerk is located at 281 Prinsengracht and the Anne Frank House at 263 Prinsengracht . The houseboat museum is located opposite house no. 296 on the Prinsengracht. The narrowest house in Amsterdam is on Singel No. 7. The Museum Het Grachtenhuis from the 17th century in Herengracht 586.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Johannes Ter Gouw: Amsterdam: oorsprong en afleiding van de namen der grachten, eilanden, pleinen, straten, stegen, bruggen, sluizen en torens dezer stad: tweede stuk , Amsterdam 1865, p. 67. Online
  2. Canal belt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site . With photo, Dutch. Retrieved August 2, 2010

Coordinates: 52 ° 22 ′ 13 ″  N , 4 ° 53 ′ 26 ″  E