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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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...
Please keep exploring my gablestone pages on the local Amsterdam section.
These unique stones are to good to walk by.
So, not only keep your eyes on the street, but also at the houses too!
Even beyond more gablestones, there are more gable jewels to admire.
Just take a different route on each of your Amsterdam explorations.
This series of gable stone pictures still continues. Amsterdam is such a rich source for these, that I'm sure I will discover more in the old city.
The spionnetje is a typical Amsterdam thing. It's a rear mirror like spy-device people living at the upper floors use to see who is at the front door at street level.
The facades of the old Amsterdam houses are reflecting their history.
Pictures stones, ornaments, cramp-irons, skylights and gabels tell their own story.
When you are looking good and want to relax, pull up a bit of concrete and people watching is the preferred activity.