A brief history on the Canals in Amsterdam

First: Canals to fortify the city – History canals amsterdam

The canals were initially built to fortify the city. But when the city grew the canals were within the city walls and therefore lost their function to protect the city from intruders. The function quickly changed to waterway transport hubs. Warehouses were built alongside the canals and goods were shipped to anywhere. During the ‘Dutch Golden Age’, in which the Dutch Economy flourished more canals were built to transport goods. In 1612 the municipality started a plan to expand the city which made Amsterdam four times bigger within 50 years. The canals built in this period are, together with the Jordan District, since 2010 listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Amstelveld - A brief history of the Canals in Amsterdam

Prinsengracht (Amstelveld) – A brief history of the Canals in Amsterdam

Second: Canals are waterway transport hubs – History canals amsterdam

During these times living on the canals was seen as a sign of poverty. Many goods were shipped on the waterways, the water was polluted and smelled awful. In the last century the canals lost their function as transport hubs and the quality of the water became better. The warehouses were transformed to big and chic canal houses.

Third: Canals are replaced by roads – History canals amsterdam

In this same 20th century almost half of the canals were removed and transformed to parking places and roads. You can see this from the street names as for example: ‘Lindengracht’, ‘Elandsgracht’ ‘Palmgracht’ or ‘Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal’. The Dutch suffix ‘gracht’ and ‘wal’ means canal. When you go to these streets you’ll find wide streets, but no canals, they have been replaced.

Lindengracht - history canals amsterdam

Lindengracht street sign with suffix ‘gracht’ meaning canal

Lindengracht used to be a canal

Lindengracht used to be a canal, now it’s a wide street with a local market every Saturday

Fourth: Living on a canal a sign of wealth – History canals amsterdam

The old warehouses on the canals and the house boats are now a sign of prosperity. The water in the canals are cleaner than ever before and people even swim in them. Many locals have small boats to cruise around on the canals. Besides the canals popular restaurants, bars and terraces can be found. The Canal Festival, Amsterdam Pride and Amsterdam City Swim are the biggest events attracting many to Amsterdam.

Pride Amsterdam celebrations

Pride Amsterdam celebrations on Prinsengracht

7 thoughts on “A brief history on the Canals in Amsterdam

  1. Yasmin says:

    Wow, I didnt know that almost 50% of the canals are gone now! Crazy to imagine how much water there must have been a 100 years ago.

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