This week, Amsterdam by Night puts its Spotlight on one of the most typical featurs of Amsterdam. The city is well-known for its canals and is sometimes called the Venice of the north. There are about 160 canals with a total length of more than 100 kilometer. De development of the canal network went in several phases and followed the growth of the city. In contrast to many other cities, the canals of Amsterdam survived extensive renovation plans so that we are still able to enjoy them today, as they have been laid out hundreds of years ago.
Amsterdam found its origin at the estuary of the Amstel in the IJ and has always had a strong connection with the water. The current location of Damrak and Rokin used to be the original riverbed of the Amstel, although most of the river has been filled in (especially at Dam square and the Beurs van Berlage). The first canals were constructed for defensive purposes, which can still be heard in their names. The Oudezijds Voorburgwal (front wall of the old side), used to be the moat of the medieval city. When in 1385 a new city wall, including moat, was constructed this became the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. Along the same line most of the canals in the city center are remnants of the old defensive works of a growing Amsterdam. This proces continued with the Singel, which acted as a moat until 1585, and the Singelgracht, which fulfilled this function till the 17th century.
The Canal Belt
When the population of Amsterdam started growing during the 17th century, there was a rising demand for living space. Also the richer population was in search of an alternative to the steadily overcrowding inner city. Mainly resulting from the riches of the seatrade, the city government was capable of implementing an ambitious plan: the construction of a new canal belt beyond the Singelgracht. Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht were laid out simultaneously, starting at Brouwersgracht. The new canals were dug out towards the south until the Amstel. The name of tramstop Oost-einde (East-end) still refers to this outer limit of the canal belt. Later, the canals were further extended to the east of Amstel as the Nieuwe Herengracht, Nieuwe Keizersgracht and Nieuwe Prinsengracht. Since 2010, the historic canal belt of Amsterdam is a UNESCO world heritage site.
New canals were also constructed on the outer side of the canal belt, sometimes following existing creeks and waters, other times acting as new waterways. These newly constructed canals connected the inner city with its suburbs en constituted the main transportation network of Amsterdam. The most recent additions to the canal system are found in the north-east of the city center. In 1995, four new canals were laid out at Java-eiland, mainly acting as an extension of the IJ-harbour. Along these canals we find modern interpretations of the typical Amsterdam canalhouse.
- Een kleine Geschiedenis van Amsterdam - Geert Mak
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