Canals & Houseboats, Amsterdam
Amsterdam is famous for its canal houses, whose history date back to as far as the 17th century, when Amsterdam was a prospering trade city. Canal houses served both as homes as well as work places or storage buildings.
They are often specified by their gabels, which come in several forms like bottle, step, spout and many more. Also the facade is usually topped by a hoist with a hook to lift up bulky goods to the upper levels of the building.
Amsterdam's canal district with its canal houses was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010.
Most of Amsterdam's canal houses can be found in the so called canal district (Grachtengordel) which is the area around the following canals Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsensgracht.
Amsterdam is a city of canals - waterways are said to occupy 25% of the surface of the city. Beautiful and scenic at every turn, they are one of the great joys of visiting. Canals did not appear at random but are the result of conscious city planning. Early on, the city was surrounded by the broad Singel canal, used for managing water flow and as a defensive moat. In the Golden Age of the 1600's with over 400 ships arriving and leaving per annum, the city size grew beyond the existing canal system. City managers developed a plan for three additional concentric canals predominantly for residences surrounded by an outside canal for defense, the Singelgracht, with construction spanning 50 years (1613-56). In addition, parallel canals were planned for what today is the Jordaan district, some of the most beautiful in the city. In 2101 these canals were granted UNESCO World Heritage status. Every bend in the Herengracht (Patrician's Canal), Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal), and Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal ) and particularly the Jordaan canals brings a new vista. Planning is not necessary to see lots of canal vistas - just walking through the city will more than suffice.
Herengracht, named after the city administrators, is home to some of the most expensive townhouses, doublewides in the U portion of the canal, often block through to the Keizersgracht with inside gardens.
Keizersgracht is named after Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and is the widest canal.
Prinsengracht is the longest canal, named after the Prince of Orange.
Very few waterways have been filled in over the years. The Amstel of course has become the Damrak. The Spui was formerly a waterway, and several smaller canals were closed to accomodate vehicular traffic in the 20th C. The only king to close a canal was also the only king to actually live in Amsterdam. Louis I, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, closed a canal behind the Palace because the stench was so offensive his sensitive wife could not sleep.
Favorite thing: Just below roof level, most of the canal circle townhouses have an external hoist used in centuries past to bring heavy items to upper floors, as seen throughout Europe. Elsewhere on the facade there are often pictures related to the occupant's business or personal symbol. Also worth looking for when walking through the city, and particularly on the canals.
The dutch word for canal is "gracht". Therefore, the name of the canals ends in "..gracht".
Singelgrachtl - The Singel, Amsterdam's innermost canal, the narrowest circle of the half-moons of canals. Its name means ring or belt and it marked the boundary of the medieval town. Before 17th century, the Singel was merely a ditch separating the town walls from the gardens and lawns of Amsterdam's immediate outskirts. This wide, windy canal was heavily urbanized as from the second half of the 17th century.
Herrengracht - The Gentlemen's Canal, like the other canals called the Keizergracht and the Prinsengracht, dates from 1612, when it was decided too dig a concentric series of canals surrounding the centre of the city. On the sides of the Herrengracht are the aristocratic dwellings of the richest families in Amsterdam who once favoured this part of the city. The richest merchants competed with another for the most beautiful or largest house. Over 400 houses on Herrengracht are considered national monuments. They are mainly banks or offices as their maintenance is too expensive for private ownership.
Keizergracht - The Emperor's Canal owes its name to the Maximilian I, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Keizergracht connects the Amstel to Brouwergracht. Its houses are not as impressive as those on the parallel Herrengracht, but still they keep the charm.
Prinsengracht - It is the most popular of Amsterdam's main canals and the outermost ring of its semicircumference. In fact, Princes Canal marks the outer boundary of the centre of Amsterdam.
I came across this interesting bluey/green building which I later discovered is a housing developement office, I love the colour and shape and it's one of the most unusual buildings I have seen.
The building was designed by Steven Holl - Architects.
Many thanks to my VT friend maartenw for this information!
Favorite thing: The Dutch like their homes to be *gezellig* or cosy!! And that certainly is the general feeling when you look into those big basement windows! It is quite usual to see groups of friends or families sitting together eating and drinking and having a nice time together. Their homes look very well cared for and clean and comfortable. I love seeing cyclists of all ages, male and females, cycling home late in the afternoon with huge bunches of flowers to brighten their living rooms or loos! :))
Favorite thing: Canal houses that you see everywhere in Amsterdam, were no more then storage houses. In medieval times this town was the most important harbour for the Netherlands, yes even one of the most important ones in Europe. The canal houses higher floors were storage rooms, which is still recognised on the door-like and high windows. Another prove of the storage function is the hook on top of each house. A bar is sticking out at the top and in it is a “katrol” (a steel ring, through which a roop was running up and down). This way the goods could be lifted to the right place, as the staircases in crowded Amsterdam were deliberately built very small and winding, therefore not suitable to be used as way of transport up. It was also not wished for to let the goods (and men) pass through the private quarters of the trader that was mostly located on the first floor(s). Below ground (the souterain) was for servants (sometimes a little entrance door for them in the stairs). Now-a-days the “katrol” is still used. How else would one get large furniture pieces, like cupboards, closets, couches and whole piano’s) inside the building.
Favorite thing: On many canals in Amsterdam you will see houseboats. Some ugly ones, but most of them are very beautiful, giving some daydreaming about having such a home self. But when thinking of it, they must be quite sick of all tourists who always are so curious about their home.
Favorite thing: The canals in Amsterdam not only served as conduits to the sea, they also are a great way to get around. People even live on the canals in often expensive and trendy houseboats (you can rent them for visits). Another plus is that there are countless bridges spanning the canals throughout the city providing picturesque vantage points to watch the world go by.
My first impressions of Amsterdam were not great. In fairness, we did walk from CS to Dam Square via Damrak, and this area is probably the most noisy and touristy in the city. We then went on to Damstraat and things didn't get much better, and I was beginning to think that everybody who had told me how great Amsterdam was must have been smoking something strange.
But on turning the next corner, we found ourselves on a quiet street, alongside a canal, with many of those pretty gable houses on either side. It was such a relief to find this street to counter our initial impressions. I later discovered that this quiet street was the southern part of Oude Zijds Voorburgwal, a street whose northern end is definitely not known for it's architecture or tranquility:))
I found most of my travel experiences very relaxing because I didn't have a set daily plan of what I was going to do/see. The girls that I traveled with to Amsterdam were similar in they were up for anything at anytime.
Feeling like you HAVE to see something would add an uneeded stress to a pleasant trip.
Fondest memory: The best part of Amsterdam in my point of view was walking through the city and seeing the diversity and unusual aspect that it had to offer. Amsterdam is a very beautiful and walkable city.
the city it's self is very small, we walked the entire trip everywhere we went. the only time we took a cab was the first day from dam square to the b&b then 2 more times late at night when we were to tired to walk. if you really want to experiance all this city has to offer you have to trek it on foot, otherwise your proned to get caught up in the hustle.
Fondest memory: the streets and buildings are each truly unique, they might all look the same from a distance but at a closer glance you'll notice differences in most of the builings and streets. the architecture of amsterdam was everything and more than i expected.
In the 17th century a beautiful panorama of towers made Amsterdam recognizable from a far.
All towers, including the churchtowers, were property of the local municipal government.
Not only did they serve as points of orientation and clockworks of the city, they also were a look out post (fire brigade).
They were not only useful, they also were a 'cieraet deser stede' (jewel of the city), which explains the many view throughs.
The many towers of the city showed how wealthy Amsterdam was.
The Montelbaanstower and Munttower are fine examples of the former wealth. These two towers are remains of defense towers from the Middle Ages, which got a new top in the 17th century (in 1606 and 1620).
These decorative renaissance towers were designed by the city building master Hendrick de Keyser.
The Montelbaanstoren is 48 m, the Munttoren 41 m high.
Favorite thing: One of my favorite things to do in Amsterdam was just to walk along the canals and bridges and look at the scenery. It is a beautiful city that you must walk around in to enjoy. Take plenty of time. Every corner and every street offers a new experience.
Amsterdam is often called "the Venice of the North" because of its more than 100 km of CANALS and 1500 bridges. The three main canals Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht, were dug in the 17th century during the Dutch golden Age.
Canal-tour boats can often be seen along the waterways and is a very popular tourist attraction in Amsterdam.
To me, the Canals is the most charming part of the city, along with the varied and unique buildings along the canals.