Prinsengracht Amsterdam (Prince's Canal)
Prinsengracht is the third and outermost of the three main canals of Amsterdam. Together, these three canals form the "fourth outlay" of the city, an expansion project that was started in the year 1612 and took 50 years to build. When it was completed, the city had grown to 4 times its original size. During the 17th century, the population grew from 50.000 to 200 000, which made it the 3rd biggest city in the world in those days, after London and Paris. Since 2009, the three main canals have been placed on the World Heritage list. Beginning of the Prinsengracht
In describing all the points of interest along Prinsengracht, we will follow the direction in which it was built - from the Unicorn sealock in the Northeast to where it meets the river Amstel in the Southwest.
The entrance to the Prinsengracht is the ‘Eenhoornsluis’ (Unicorn Lock), one of the 16 waterlocks which were built around the city in the 17th century, to control the waterlevel in the canals and to protect the city against the sea. Amsterdam was a seaport and this was a sealock. You can still see that the lockdoors on the city-side are a lot lower than the ‘Flood Doors’ outside, which were built to protect the city from springtides and Northwesterly storms. Outside these doors was the tidal ‘Southern Sea’, the source of many flood-disasters. The last big flood was in 1916. In response to that flood, a big dike was built across the ‘Southern Sea’, in the north of the country, making it into a freshwater lake. There is no more salt water around Amsterdam, but the city has never had a serious flood since that time.
The horizontal line on that stone indicates the highth of the sea-dykes around the city in those days. The average high-water level of the (tidal) Zuyderzee by those dykes became the benchmark for the waterlevel in the city's canals - nine ft and five inches below that benchmark. Protection against floods and drainage of dirty canal-water were the main reasons for setting a benchmark for watercontrol. Mayor Hudde had designed a system of locks, watermills and measuring stones with which the Amsterdammers could keep their feet dry and did not become ill from the stench and pollution of the canals. Originally therte were 9 measuring stones, the one in the unicorn lock is the only one that survives. It is a very important stone, because the waterlevel it indicates became the benchmark for all the controlled waterlevels in the country and in most other European countries.Weathered and partly hidden behind a lock door of the Unicorn lock, there is a stone that, together with the entire lock, was declared a municipal historic monument in 2005. It was placed there in 1683, commisioned by mayor Joannes Hudde as a measuring benchmark for the waterlevels in the city.
On the other side of the canal, on the corner of the Brewer’s Canal, is one of the oldest café’s in Amsterdam: café ‘Papeneiland’, established in 1641. In the 17th century, “Paap” was a common swearword for Catholics. ‘Papeneiland’ was a catholic café and it stood on a little island just outside the city.
A secret tunnel was dug in the 17th century from the Posthorn church, under the canal, to the basement of the café. Through that tunnel, the Catholics could flee the city if there was trouble. If you ask the barman of that café nicely, he’ll take you to the basement and show you the entrance of that tunnel, which is still there. If you look back at the café from the other side of the bridge, you see that the building has two front gables, one stepgable on each canal. As opposed to the house on the other corner, which has one front and one side gable. That meant that the owner of the café had to pay double taxes, because they only had to pay for front footage with a hoisting hook. Recently, Papeneiland made a claim to fame because American ex-president Clinton spent some hours in the cafe during his visit to Holland in May 2011. He enjoyed some of the famous home-made apple pie there.
Posthorn Hidden Church
The reformation was of vital importance for Amsterdam. It ignited the city’s rapid growth in the 17th century. During the reformation, Catholics were thrown out of public office and out of their their churches and they were not allowed to exercise their religion openly anymore. So they built semi-clandestine hidden churches to practice their faith in. There were 14 of those churches in the city. Everybody knew about them, but they were tolerated as long as they didn’t come out in the open, just like everything always has been tolerated in Amsterdam. We have a long tradition there. One of the hiding churches was the Posthorn Church on nr. 7 on the right, it was only identified by a gablestone of a posthorn over the door.
Om the left side is the Noordermarkt (Northern Market) with the Northern Chuch, built only 2 years after the Western Church by the same architect: Hendrick de Keyser. The church was financed by the same rich merchants who had paid for the Western Church. But the merchants had intended the Western Church for their own use, the Northern Church was for people they preferred not to see in their fancy Western Church. Smelly people like fishermen and farmers and other poor folk. It took 13 years to build the Western Church, the Northern Church was finished in just two years.
Most of the newcomers at the beginning of the 17th century were merchants, who all wanted a house on the canalside, so they could hoist their merchandise from the boats in the canal straight to the attic of their houses, which they initially used for storage. In the top of every gable, you see a hoisting hook for the block and tackle they used to hoist up the goods. These hooks are still commonly used in Amsterdam. Moving big furniture in or out of these houses, still requires block and tackle. All the houses on the canals were built narrow and deep, with notoriously steep stairways. That peculiar style of architecture was the result of the local tax laws in the 17th century. Property on the canalsides was scarce and valuable, taxes were paid by the width of the canalfront of the houses. The tax was high: it had to finance the big expansion project.
Most of the canalhouses are 6m. (18ft.) wide. The only canal that has wider houses is the Herengracht (Gentlemen’s Canal), which was dug to house the richest merchants and regents of the city. They could easily afford excessive taxes. There are some famous ‘narrow houses’ on the other canals. The narrowest house in the city is on Singelcanal nr 7. That house is only 1m. (4ft.) wide. But the back of that house is 7m (20ft.) wide, so that was a good size house in a good location, and the owner didn’t have to pay too much tax. Our frugal reputation must come from that period. The builder of the narrowst house on the Prinsengracht had no such benefits. It is the house on the right with the white bay window on the seconds floor at nr. 245. The back of that house is hardly wider than the front, which is 1,4m. (5ft.) wide. Until recently, 3 families were living in that house, one each floor.
The modern building on the next corner is the entrance to the Anne Frank Museum. One of the busiest museums in the country, with almost a million visitors each year. The third house at nr. 273 with the three green doors, is the actual house where Anne Frank was hidden during the war and where she wrote her famous diary.
Canal bike & Canal Bus
In front of the Western church, Canal bike has a location for the distribution of water bikes which tourists can hire to explore the canals. There are several of these distribution centers, so bikes can be rented at one location and returned to another. There is also a stopping place on the Canal Bus Red line here, going in the direction of Central Station. With 3 lines and 16 stops, the Canal Bus network covers all the most interesting sights in the city. https://www.canal.nl/canal-bike
Amsterdam’s most famous church was built in1631 as one of the four first protestant churches that were built after the reformation from the Catholics. Our queen, Beatrix was married in this church in 1966, our most famous painter Rembrandt was buried here in 1667. Although he was famous in his lifetime, he died poor, so you will not find his grave in the church anymore. It was cleared after 20 years, because nobody wanted to pay for its maitainance.
26 Restored 17th century canal mansions put together make up one of the most interesting hotels in town. Five star comfort in a very Dutch ‘homy’ atmosphere.
"Red Deer" Brewery
On the right before the bridge is a row of seven bell gables with pictures of red deer in the tops of the gables. Beer-brewery ‘The Red Deer’ was located here. In 1840, this brewery started using waterboats to bring clean water from a nearby river to brew
Beer with, so this was the first quality brewery in Amsterdam. They did not live
long the brewery went bankrupt in 1868.
If you want to see what it’s like to live on a houseboat, you can visit the Houseboat Museum on your left side just before the bridge. The owner was a teacher who eventually got so fed up with all the people asking him if they could see his beautiful boat, that he turned it into a museum. He used to live on the boat, but the museum is now open summer and winter. He has moved to the boat on the other side of the canal for a bit of privacy.
One of the few café's on this canal that has a terrace on the waterside is "Molenpad" on nr 653. In the summer, many pleasure boats moor in front of the café. If requested, they can get their food and drinks delivered on board.
On nr 438, on the corner of Leidsestraat, you find hotel-restaurant Dikker & Thijs. Established in 1895, this place became the first real deli in Amsterdam, the only place where lobsters, caviar and oysters were available at the beginning of the 20th century.
Rockclub The Cave
On nr. 478 you find a haven for fans of Punk, Rock and Heavy Metal music, with live music practically every night. Behind this section of Prinsengracht is the Leidseplein area, with hundreds of bars, restaurants, theatres and nightclubs the main entertainment area of the city. Staf and regulars of The Cave look more scary than they actually are - the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming to outsiders. Every once in a while even acoustic music is played.
The building vith the little tower on the left side on nr 647 was constructed in 1862 to house the first dairy factory in the country. Before this factory was opened, milk was delivered and processed in open wooden barrels which were cleaned with canal water. In this new facility, the milk was processed in closed copper barrels which were sterilized before use. A few years earlier, the municipal water company was formed to operate a pipeline that would bring clean water from the sand dunes in the western coast. Together with this system for drinnking water, the dairy factory constituted a giant leap forward in hygiene for Amsterdam consumers.
An old hospital on Prinsengracht 769 (Prinsengrachtziekenhuis), was established in 1857 and is therefore a historic monument. A cholera epidemic in the early 1850s was the reason why the hospital for wealthy Amsterdam citizens was built in the very heart of the city. In 1996 the last hospital beds were removed and after serving as a clinic in 2015, after 158 years of service, the hospital closed and the building was sold to the COD, Cradle of Development, a real estate developer based in Amsterdam.
In the 17th century, large numbers of French speaking protestant Hugenots fled from the Roman Catholic inquisition and settled in Amsterdam. Their community founded an orphanage which was housed in a large building, constructed in 1683 on the corner of Prinsengracht and Vijzelgracht. The orphanage was mixed for boys and gyrls, which was unheard of in those days. But of course boys and girls had separate entranceas and living quarters in the building. Today the French Consulate and the cultural "Alliance Francaise" find a home in this historic monument.
Cafe de Fles
On the corner of Vijzelstraat and Prinsengracht you find a well known and very popular pub and restaurant, called "de fles" (The bottle) A typical old Amsterdam "brown Cafe", where the music is Blues and the bottles are with beer of many different kinds.
Saloon boat Avanti
The historical saloon boat Avanti was built in the year 1909 as a private yacht for the director of "van der Gessen", one of the biggest shipyards in those days. Today, Avanti sails the waters of the Amsterdam canals with partying passengers.
Stork, corner Reguliersgracht
Where Prinsengracht crosses Reguliersgracht you can see the famous seven bridges. At night, the illuminations of the bridges give the impression of a tunnel, "the tunnel of love" as this view is also called. On the corner of these two canals, at the end of the 'tunnel', a midwife had her practice in the 17th century. A statue of a stork above the door is still visible as an early advertising sign of her business.
RK church de Duif (The pigeon)
In the reformation of 1578, the catholics were chased out of the city and their churches were closed. A ban on Catholic churches was imposed which lasted untill 1855. When this ban was finally lifted, a flurry of Roman Catholic houses of worship were built of which "De Duif" (The pigeon) was one of the first - completed in 1858. A thorough restauration of the church was completed in 2006.
A temporary wooden structure, built to stand for 10 years as an emergency church to facilitate services while the money was being raised for a stone cathedral that would fill the entire square which is now called Amstelveld (Amstel field). The money never
materialized and the wooden church is still standing strong after more than 300 years. Occasionally, church services are still held there, but there is also a restaurant located within its wooden walls.
This large area was originally left open to build a protestant church of cathedral proportions, but the initiators of that project never succeeded in raising sufficient funds, so the area became a city square. On Mondays, a popular market for plants and flowers is held here.