Jordaan District in Amsterdam
History of the Jordaan
The Jordaan area was created at the large expansion of Amsterdam in early 17 C., as the district for the working class and immigrants. The population increase during the next centuries was enormous, caused by the stream of political refugees, mainly English protestants like Fleming, Spanish and Portuguese Jews and French Huguenots. They all mainly settled in the Jordaan. It was a poor district with small houses and slums, every little room stuffed with families and lots of children. The entire area was one ghetto with open sewers, canals served for both transport and sewer, and no running water. Around 1900 about 80 thousand people lived in the Jordaan, nowadays there are about 20 thousand.
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During the 1970-ties the city council had serious plans to demolish big parts of Jordaan and replace them with large ugly modern blocks of flats. There were many protests against this idea. City protectors, such as Monuments Care (Monumentenzorg), were against the loss of the historical town while inhabitants of the Jordaan feared large rent increases. Thanks to their resistance the plan was modified, there came small-scale projects which would repair the neighbourhood, without damaging its original character.
A large renovation started. It is then that the Jordaan was discovered by a new generation occupants: artists, students, and young entrepreneurs. The old inhabitants moved to other neighbourhoods and cities like Almere. Partly through these new inhabitants the Jordaan has changed from a slum area to a district for artist, still living on low rent, and the rich who bought the very expensive renovated houses. Nowadays the Jordaan is compared to the rest of the town an oasis of peace with a labyrinth of narrow streets and little canals, nice for strolling around courtyards, art studios, and monumental buildings with stone tablets, old-fashioned ‘brown’ pubs, boutiques and galleries.
The famous 17 C. Dutch writer Joost van den Vondel and 19 C. painter and photographer Breitner lived in the Jordaan. Artists, like the painter Rembrandt van Rijn in his lesser successful period in the middle of 17 C., also came living in the Jordaan because of the low rents. The house of Rembrandt was on the Rozengracht (Rose canal, still a real canal in Rembrandt’s days). His studio was on the Bloemgracht (Flower canal). The famous painter was buried in a poor mans grave in the Westerkerk (West church).
There are also some markets in this area. Saturdays you will find the Lindenmarkt (Lime market), a general market, on the Lindengracht (Lime canal) and a biological food market on the Noordermarkt (North market). Mondays you have a flea market at the Noordermarkt and a market on the Westerstraat (West street) with general goods and fabrics.
Many people think that the Westerkerk (West church) on the Westermarkt is the main church of the Jordaan. It’s true that you can hear its carillon and see the beautiful Westertoren (West tower) everywhere in the neighbourhood and that the Jordaanfestival is located on this square, but the church is actually located just outside the Jordaan. So the main church of the Jordaan is the Noorderkerk. The Noorderkerk was built in the northern part in 1620-1623 by Hendrick de Keyser and his son Pieter. The church is still in use as a Protestant church, and like the Westerkerk open to everyone, especially during concerts.
Hundreds of artists discovered the Jordaan in the 1970-ties. Every two years the Jordaan artists organize a so called ‘open studio event’. During these days visitors can visit the studios of the Jordaan artist and buy directly their art from them. There is also a permanent ornamental route called ‘Jewels in the Jordaan’. Past charming alleyways and picturesque canals it leads to gold- and silversmiths.
The Jordaan has many hofjes (inner courtyards), beautiful yards with little houses, many of them with peaceful gardens. These courtyards were build mainly by rich Amsterdam citizens for older women; a kind of charity and protection. Beginning of the 1970-ties most of these courtyards were in a very bad shape, like the rest of the neighbourhood. After these restorations often still some older people with special privileges live around them because of a church membership. Some of the courtyards are closed to the public, and only opened on special days called 'Open Monuments Days'. But if you do come across one of the entrances, and it is unlocked, most residents won't mind if you sneak in just to have a peek. During the summer some of these yards are opened on Sundays during free concerts called ‘hofjesconcerts’.
Many houses in the Jordaan have a stone tablet, a stone sign that shows the profession or family sign of the inhabitants. For instance a butcher had a pig on it and a tailor a pair of scissors, carved in a stone above the entry. During a walk it’s a pleasure to observe those beautiful, often colorful, antique signs. The first stone tablets are made in the 17 C., when citizens were ordered to use these tablets instead of big wooden gables that obstructed the traffic in the Jordaan narrow streets.
Most of the museums in the Jordaan are small. You have the Pianola Museum with old mechanical pianos, a Museum of the writer Theo Thijssen, a Houseboat Museum, and a Fluorescent Light Museum called Electric Lady Land. Just on the boarder of the Jordaan you can find the Anne Frank House at the Prinsengracht (Princes canal). The new Jordaan Museum is dedicated to the history of this city quarter.
Because of its special character it’s a pleasure to visit the Jordaan. If you would like to virtually visit the art studios and courtyards or stroll around other cultural aspects of the Jordaan, I recommend the virtual website called Jordaan Web, about the art and culture of the Jordaan.
Author: Ad Bakkenes, Jordaanweb.nl
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