CANALS, History Part 2

Audio File length: 2.23
English / USA Language: English / USA

When the canals were dug in Amsterdam, the architecture throughout the surrounding area inevitably underwent major changes, with the construction of new buildings.

The banks of the canals were divided into a series of closely packed, narrow residential lots: the wealthy bought two or three alongside one another so they could build more comfortable homes.

The small amount of ground space available was made up for by the height of the buildings, almost all of which had three or four floors and an attic. Taxes on the houses were paid based on the width of the facades, so they were built very narrow, with narrow staircases. This was why they were provided with a winch to raise and store goods; if you look carefully, you’ll see that many of the facades were built leaning forward, to avoid being hit and damaged by the loads on the winches.

A key role during the initial stage of the work was played by the sculptor and architect Hendrick de Keyzer, who designed one of the oldest and most important buildings on Herengracht, the Bartolotti Huis, now an integral part of the Theater Museum.

The building takes its name from Guglielmo Bartolotti, a very wealthy Italian convert to Calvinism who had left all his assets to a Dutch relative, Willem van der Heuvel, who was thus able not only to afford a building with an elegant, elaborate facade, designed by the top architect of the time, but to give up his job as a brewer and become a banker.

Hendrick de Keyzer’s son Pieter, also an architect, designed another magnificent building, known as the “House of the Heads”, because of the busts of classical gods on the facade, as well as the impressive Westerkerk, or Western Church, which looks onto Prinsengracht, or Prince’s Canal, and boasts a tall bell tower that makes it a landmark of the entire neighborhood.

Just a few steps away is the house where Anne Frank and her family hid for around two years.

In 2010, UNESCO awarded the canals of Amsterdam World Heritage status.


An interesting fact: despite their regular geometric shape, the canals mark off an archipelago of islands, the soft soil of which is strengthened by thousands of wooden piles. The most densely wooded regions in the Netherlands were virtually razed to the ground to provide the wood for them.

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