11 May 2011


Amstelredamum, Nobile Inferioris Germaniae Oppidum
Map Maker: Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg (1572, Cologne)

A view of Amsterdam from IJ, drawn by Pieter van der Keere (1618)

Crane booms, drawn by J.C. Greive Jr. (1850-1860)

EVEN AS LATE AS 1880, a traveler would enter Amsterdam through a harbour. The harbour stretched out over some three kilometres exactly where the Centraal Station now stands. Alongside this slowly curving bay, in the words of Geert Mak, a complete waterscape with a forest of masts, flags, towers and big wooden wharfs (for constructing ships) had come into being, subdivided by pontoons.

“This waterscape,” explains Mak, “had a structure of its own, and there were even a number of buildings on stilts seemingly lost amid the ships: shipping offices, a platform on which there were two wooden cranes, guardhouses, dredging mills, the “tree bell” which was sounded each evening when the booms were lowered to close the city’s access to the sea […] and finally a special inn, a substantial wooden building catering to those foreigners who were not permitted to enter the city.”

If the traveler was permitted to enter the city, he would continue to sail or row himself into Damrak. The cargo was rowed ashore from the larger vessels, while smaller ships took their cargo and passengers on to the Dam. Damrak canal that ran through the spot where the National Monument stands was, too, full of ships.

River Amstel flowing through Damrak (cca 1690)

This is how you should start exploring Amsterdam. Draw in your mind the contours of the city walls and erase the Centraal Station. Imagine you are sailing into the city from the IJ. As you walk along the streets, fill them up in your mind with water and let your imagination sail you along the narrow streets that were once much wider canals. Start at Zeedijk number 1, where In 't Aepjen - an old sailors’ tavern, one of only two remaining timber houses - still stands at your service with a bottle of whisky and a lodging room. Then sail on and pass those windows with red lights… only imagine the ladies dressed, and holding a red lantern... luring you on, into a narrower, darker canal… Their teeth sizzling white in the glow of the red lantern, against the absolute pitch darkness of the nights in the Amsterdam of old.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this. The pictures were just what I needed for my presentation on the history of Amsterdam for some completely ignorant youngsters from abroad