CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Booming Amsterdam: de aanleg van de grachten in de Gouden Eeuw

Booming Amsterdam: the origins of Amsterdam’s canal ring Exhibition: 15 February - 26 May 2013

From the press release, 14 February 2013

In 2013, Amsterdam’s canal ring will have existed for 400 years. With its 14
kilometres of canals and 80 bridges, it is a masterpiece of urban development.
When the city council decided to build the canals in 1613, the decision
increased Amsterdam’s size fivefold. The canal ring was recently placed on
UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

For the first time, Amsterdam City Archives is exhibiting the beautiful maps
and archival documents that tell the story behind this monumental expansion
of the city. The original manuscript maps that the city councillors used at the
time give unique insight in 17th century urban planning.

Europe’s most pleasant city

Amsterdam served as a magnet to tens of thousands of immigrants, growing into one of the largest metropolises in Europe. It was the third most densely populated city, after London and Paris. Visitors were impressed by the canals and the dynamic atmosphere, as the French writer Marie des Jardins observed in 1688: ‚ÄėAmsterdam is a beautiful city. Its streets are wide and clean, and are crossed by canals lined by tall, handsome trees. … People flock there from all parts of the world, in such numbers and diversity that one is reminded of ancient Babylon. … Amsterdam is the most pleasant place in Europe, and there is not a single Persian or Armenian who would not feel at home there.‚Äô

The exhibition opens with a spectacular map of the city’s expansion, in the central hall of the building De Bazel. Then there is a display of the City Archives’ registers containing public notices of intended marriages, which show that Amsterdam’s new population included people from Angola, Brazil and New York. The city was bursting at the seams. This made its expansion, with the building of the canal ring, an urgent necessity. The exhibition includes the original manuscript maps that the city councillors pored over at the time. Finally, beautiful prints and architectural drawings display the canal-houses in which Amsterdam’s wealthy burghers lived.

Immigrants and registers of intended marriages

Amsterdam grew rapidly in the Golden Age. Trade and shipping to and from all parts of the world made the city on the IJ a centre whose growth was unparalleled in that era. Amsterdam was booming. Immigrants flocked here looking for jobs and a better future. While in 1600 the city’s population was
around 50,000, by 1700 it had more than quadrupled, to around 220,000. The registers of intended marriages show where all those unknown people came from. We read their names, see who they married, and what occupations people pursued. The registers record the origins of a metropolis.

The maps for the canal plan

Amsterdam’s population explosion led to two ambitious expansions, in 1613 and 1663, creating the half-moon canal ring that is world-famous today. How were these expansions carried out? What plans existed? The original maps, topographical images and documents combine to tell the spatial story of
the city’s expansion. The City Archives will be exhibiting a number of unique plans for the 1663 expansion, the manuscript maps that lay on the table at the time during the city council’s meetings.

The originals are now to be displayed to the general public for the first time. Also on display is the charter issued by the States of Holland in 1609, a large parchment charter, granting ‚Äėpermission‚Äô for the city‚Äôs expansion.

Canal-houses and architecture

The new canals to be built, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, were to be flanked by spacious blocks of houses with large plots of land and deep gardens. What kinds of houses were built there in the seventeenth century? What did the canals look like in the Golden Age? When was the socalled
‚ÄėGolden Bend‚Äô in Herengracht and parts of Keizersgracht constructed? Prints and rare architectural drawings belonging to Amsterdam City Archives show the houses that were inhabited by wealthy Amsterdam burghers who lived along the major canals, besides which designs by famous architects, such as Hendrick de Keyser and Philip Vingboons, will be on view. The bird‚Äôs-eye maps of
Balthasar Florisz (1625) and Jacob Bosch (1681) show the city as it looked in the Golden Age.