Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern is largely unchanged since the 19th century - there was no major bombing during World War II. The centre consists of 90 islands, linked by 400 bridges. Its most prominent feature is the concentric canal ring begun in the 17th century. The city office for architectural heritage (BMA http://www.bma.amsterdam.nl) has an excellent online introduction to the architectural history, and the types of historical buildings. The website includes a cycle route along important examples.
The oldest parts of the city are Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk. Two mediaeval wooden houses survive, at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. Other old houses are Warmoesstraat 83 (built circa 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (circa 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (circa. 1425).
The Begijnhof is a late-medieval enclosed courtyard with the houses of beguines, women living in a semi-religious community. Beguinages are found in northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and north-western Germany. House number 34 at the Begijnhof is the oldest home in Amsterdam. Entry to the courtyard and surrounding gardens is free.
There are several large warehouses for more specific uses. The biggest is the Admirality Arsenal (1656-1657), now the Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum) at Kattenburgerplein. Others include the former turf warehouses (1550) along the Nes, now the municipal pawn office; a similar warehouse at Waterlooplein 69-75 (Arsenaal, 1610), now an architectural academy, and the warehouse of the West India Company (1642) at the corner of Prins Hendrikkade and s-Gravenhekje. The 19th-century warehouses, along the Oostelijke Handelskade, are surrounded by new office buildings.
The trading city of Amsterdam was ruled by a merchant-based oligarchy, who built canal houses and mansions in the most prestigious locations, especially along the main canals. The BMA website has a chronological list of the most important:
- Singel 140-142, De Dolphijn (circa 1600).
- Oudezijds Voorburgwal 14, Wapen van Riga (1605).
- Oudezijds Voorburgwal 57, De Gecroonde Raep (1615), in Baroque Amsterdam Renaissance style.
- Herengracht 170-172, Bartolotti House (circa 1617).
- Keizersgracht 123, House with the Heads (1622).
- Herengracht 168 (1638).
- Rokin 145 (1643).
- Kloveniersburgwal 29, Trip House (1662).
- Oudezijds Voorburgwal 187 (1663).
- Singel 104-106 (1743).
- Singel 36, Zeevrugt (1763).
The Jordaan was built around 1650 along with the canal ring, but not for the wealthy merchants. For a long time it was considered the typical working-class area of Amsterdam, and included some notorious slums. It was probably the first example of "gentrification" in the Netherlands (although of course it predates the term). The name probably derives from the nickname 'Jordan' for the Prinsengracht. Apart from a few wider canals, the streets are narrow, in an incomplete grid pattern.
- Magere Brug A traditional Dutch style draw bridge, over 300 years old and nearly in it's original capacity. The Magere Brug is a beautiful place to overlook the river and take in some traditional Dutch architecture.
19th-century architecture is under-represented in Amsterdam. Immediately outside the Singelgracht (former city moat) is a ring of 19th-century housing. The most prominent buildings from this period are Centraal Station (1889) and the Rijksmuseum (1885), both by P. J. H. Cuypers.
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