If I wrote somewhere enthusiast reviews about architecture in France, Italy, Spain, England, I don't feel motivated by the architecture of Amsterdam. Certainly very typical but nothing monumental as one sees along the avenues of Paris, Rome, Vienna, Prague, Budapest or Venice.
The houses of Amsterdam are very "middle class" for the simple reason I think that they were not build by noblemen who wanted to show their power and richness like in the other European countries but by the merchants of a Calvinist republic.
No Versailles, no Buckingham Palace, no Schönbrunn in Amsterdam!
The citizens of the Gouden Eeuw were actually working hard, discreet about their money, preferring to decorate the inside of their houses with these wonderful Dutch paintings and porcelain decorative objects.
Much of the Amsterdam canal houses were built in or after the 17th century. These townhouses or merchant houses served as a residence as well as a workshop. They are often characterized by the facade and entrance, the door above the stairs was for high visit, the door under the stairs for staff and vendors. Because space was scarce, the houses are often narrow and high, with a lifting beam just below the roof furniture. Furthermore as the city was built on piles in the mud it is not surprising that so many houses have problems with verticality.
On an evening I made a walk along the Prinsengracht to take photos of some of these houses. I wonder how people live in such houses with floors that are far from horizontal.
These plaques once indicated to local Amsterdammers where the chemist/apotheke was situated... the man has a pill on his tongue! I guess in the old days few people were literate and pictures and symbols would have been necessary. I am so glad that a few of these have been preserved for posterity!
Many houses in Amsterdam are very small because they used to pay taxes according to the width of their façade. So they built there homes very small but deep.
On the gable you will notice a pulley. As the stairs were very narrow and steep it was impossible to get the goods and furniture inside this way, so every house has a pulley on the outside to lift the goods.
The narrowest house in the world is to be found on the Singel, no.7. Only one metre in breadth, it is barely wider than the front door. The people who live there have to be slim! However in the reality only the front side is so narrow. Behind this facade the house broadens out to more normal dimensions.
Yet the narrowest house in Europe is still to be found in Amsterdam on Oude Hoogstraat 22, between the Dam and the Nieuwmarkt. This house is 2.02m wide and 6.0 metres deep. Another narrow house is located nearby, on the Kloveniersburgwal 26, Mr Trip's Coachman's House, 2.44m wide. This latest one is very special, because its location is opposite of the widest house (26m) of Amsterdam.
I'd noted on my first visit that many of the older buildings in Amsterdam's historical centre were 'wonky': slightly out of true. That is hardly surprising, given the city's high water-table and resulting soft soil plus the fact that many (?most?) of the older buildings were constructed on wooden pilings.
But those buildings are historically important and, I suspect, there are rules and regulations about exactly what can and cannot be done to them in terms of modernisation and general building work. I'm no builder but I imagine there are times when under-pinning the foundations with concrete has been essential. That is probably what keeps those buildings which are very 'wonky' still standing.
I noticed that the very impressive gables ..built simply towers of brick with nothing supporting them...are now often tied to the building structure by metal rods.
The most extreme example of 'coping with wonkiness' that I spotted was the chimney in the main photo. It's amazing that it's still standing at all but the network of metal strips and rods is presumably holding it safely in position. I hope!
When you think about it, building in stone on such land (from the late 1500s onwards) is pretty impressive engineering, as was the draining of so much land by the use of dykes and ditches. The Dutch had a very good reputation as land engineers. That's why so many...including Cornelius Vermuyden....were involved in draining the Fens in East Anglia (UK) during the mid 1600s.
It's clear they are still equally adept at stabilising buildings and structures on land which is prone to subsidence.
As we were traveling through the canals, they pointed out that most of the houses had hooks suspended from the top of them called hijsbalk, used with a rope and pulley to hoist large, heavy items in and out of homes that have steep, narrow staircases.
Characteristically the city centre of Amsterdam consists of separate houses; each house with its own roof, front door and facade. We usually distinguish between ordinary single houses (3 bays, total width 25-30 feet, i.e. 7-8.5 metres, with the front door placed to one side but often in the middle in the case of 17th century houses) and double houses. Kloveniersburgwal 29 and Keizersgracht 177 are "king-size" houses which in fact belong to the category of two houses sharing one facade.
Another common distinction applies to the function of the houses. Merchants' houses are characterised by top floors designed to serve as storage space for commodities, whereas mansions were built for residential purposes only. Most of the Amsterdam houses come under the first heading. However, even though the houses were conceived as separate entities, together they form a unified whole because of the harmony in size and proportions that can be observed throughout the city centre. This is one of the reasons why the Amsterdam city centre is such a unique and rare whole. Merchants’ houses are by definition canal houses. Characteristic features of such houses are attics and cellars which served as storage space for the commodities which were transported by boat. It is true to say that trade determined the Amsterdam cityscape; water being an essential feature.
The style of the facade is one way of dating canal houses. However, a word of warning is in order for a house may be younger or older than its facade. In the 18th and 19th centuries the facades were often replaced by more modern ones, whereas in our days it is not uncommon to retain the historical facade and build a new house behind it. Besides, most of the windows had to be replaced in the course of the lifetime of the houses. One rarely finds a 17th century house in possession of its original cross-bar windows. Even 18th century window frames largely disappeared, although many of them are reconstructed as part of restoration projects.
The Amsterdam gables hide many things of beauty.
Take time to explore the walls of the houses.
The gablestones are being protected by the "Vereniging Vrienden van Amsterdamse Gevelstenen".
Clearly, the people of Amsterdam are incredibly generous to one another. This is the biggest present I have ever seen!! And beautifully gift wrapped!!!
Imagine finding this waiting for you on your birthday. Somehow I don't think it is a pair of socks, or a box of chocolates :-))
House seen on the Herengracht (Centrum), yeah, ok, it is probably a generous attempt to hide scaffolding tubes and building work, next to one of the most scenic canals in Amsterdam.
What do the three crosses that we see everywhere represent?
The crosses featured on the Amsterdam coat of arms and on the Amsterdammetjes (see phallic-like poles) represent Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Amsterdam. He was condemned by the church as a heretic and crucified, hence the three inverted crosses. Why three crosses? Each cross represents, and should protect Amsterdam from, the three disasters the city has endured for centuries. Floods (fought with windmills), the plague, and fires (especially in the 1500’s).
One thing you will see on many Amsterdam houses are hoisting beams with a hook.
As most of the canal houses have small steep stairs, furniture and other large objects have to be hoisted in front of the house and loaded via the window.
Don't be surprised to see a rope hanging from the top to street level. The chance is something BIG has to be moved.
Have you noticed that most houses in Holland haven't got any curtains in the windows? Or anything else to protect their privacy from a stranger's eyes? I can find some argument for such arrangement on the upper floors: curtains block sunlight which is scarse most of the year, and it takes effort and time to wash them. But what about the basement? Aren't people who live there embarrassed or angry when people from the street peep into their lives?! I for myself sometimes felt embarrassed to pass and more or less involutarily look inside.
Most buildings in the center are more than 100 years old, most of them are inclined over the ages because of the wery watery soil. The architecture is very typical, one could say, every house is a monument...
In case you wondered: The houses in Amsterdam don't have hooks at the top because Holland is full of suicidal people. It's because the staircases are really steep and narrow - just imagine moving houses with a piano!
What are these phallic-like poles along the roadside for?
Called Amsterdammertjes, they’re for tourists to walk into and look silly. Guys in particular should watch out, since these things are at just the right height in most cases to deliver a potentially damaging impact between the legs. They are actually there to help separate cars from pedestrians. The Dutch feel so strongly about these objects of affection that they managed to get over 50,000 signatures on a petition opposing government plans to remove them.