Week 31: The old city center around Zuiderkerk (Nieuwmarkt en Lastage)
If you don’t live close, this walk is definitely worth the time it takes to get here. Visit one of the old villages that Amsterdam Noord has to offer. Learn about the history of the area above the IJ water. During this tour, you will walk over the Nieuwendammerdijk and learn about its history and buildings. You will also be able to experience some nature in het Vliegenbos, a forest next to the village.
Enjoy your walk!
Total Walking Time: 45 min
Directions: Link or click the top right corner of the map to open full screen in Google Maps
FYI: the technology behind Google Maps is sometimes a bit shaky, so sometimes you need to click the link more than once, or zoom in to get the route view. Apologies for the inconvenience.
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☕ Best Roast en Route: @droog Amsterdam
This is one of the best-hidden cafes in the city. Tucked away in a fancy, hip store amidst the old Amsterdam canal, @droog is really the unknown getaway in the middle of the busy city center. A staircase in the middle of the store, next to the courtyard takes you up to this secret place.
Most striking about the café is the amazing view yet get on the canal (the Groenburgwal) from the second floor. With a bit of luck, you can see the 17th century ‘Zuiderkerk’ at roughly the same angle Monet used when painting this church in the 19th century. Yet, Monet has to share the artistic vibration with Rembrandt. On the wall, you’ll find a modern remake of Rembrandt’s ‘Staalmeesters’. Amsterdam in the 17th century was the global center of the clothing industry. This very building was the office where the quality of the clothing was being checked. They asked Rembrandt (who literally lived around the corner) to paint them – the painting was called the ‘Staalmeesters’.
Highlight A: Schreierstoren
The Schreierstoren used to be one of the defense towers of the old Amsterdam wall. The name used to be Schrayershoucktoren, “Schrayers” means sharp and “houck” means corner. Logically, the tower was named after the sharp corner the wall made after the tower. The construction of the wall was an enormous project. All the citizens had to literally contribute stones. This is probably where the Dutch proverb “een steentje bijdragen” (to contribute a stone) comes from. The proverb means: to contribute to something.
The city at that time was considerably smaller, and the canal district did not exist yet. Instead, the Singel indicated the edge of the city. But the city grew quickly and soon the borders of the city proved too tight. The wall only existed for a hundred years before it was brought down around 1600. A new defense line was built which was used until the late nineteenth century. This new defense line you can find on the map of Amsterdam today and surrounds the canal district of the city.
Highlight B: Zeedijk
The Zeedijk, also known as Chinatown in Amsterdam, knows a long history and dates back to the thirteenth century. Translated to English it means Sea Dyke. The name literally describes its first function, to protect the city from the Southern Sea. Up until the seventeenth century, the Zeedijk was one of the most respectable areas to live. This changed when the new canals were constructed. The addition of the Herengracht meant more room for the newest and most elegant houses and so most rich merchants left. The Zeedijk area turned into sailor territory since it was close to the harbor. Sailor cafes, the red-light district all help us remember the old Zeedijk. Over time a lot has changed. In the last century, most of the houses of the street and neighborhood were neglected. The area became a “no-go zone”, inhabited by drug addicts and criminals. I have been told by Amsterdam women that in the seventies and eighties all the women and girls were being told to avoid the area since you would never know what could happen…
The municipality wanted to get rid of this dangerous area and started buying up some of the houses in the street. Together with some private companies, they were able to restore some of the buildings and make the area suitable for new companies again. The neighborhood proved interesting for many Chinese, and soon it was known as Chinatown, with the Zeedijk as the center of it all.
Zeedijk offers amazing and affordable food. My favorite spot to eat is the BIRD snackbar, which offers amazing Thai food (be warned: there is a BIRD restaurant across the street which is something different). The tokos are also interesting to visit. In these Asian supermarkets, you will be able to find the perfect ingredients to make your own Asian cuisine at home.
Highlight C: De Waag
Personally, this is my favorite building in the city. It was originally called the Sint Antoniepoort, one of the gates to the city. It was part of the medieval wall and directly connected to the Schreierstoren. But after the city grew and the wall was brought down, the building lost its gate function. First, it took over the function as ‘Waag’. The Waag is needed for the organization of trade in the city. Goods were brought in, weighed, and transported out. Previously the Waag had been a smaller building in the middle of Dam square, but with the expansion of trade, this building had grown too small.
The top floors of the Waag were used to house some guilds (which are interest organizations for persons with the same profession). Every guild had its own entrance. If you walk around the building you can still see the old emblems of the guilds above the entrances. The guilds housed in the Waag were that of the smiths, masons, painters and surgeons. Part of the surgeon guild was the Anatomic Theater (Theatrum Anatomica) where bodies were studied from the inside. This anatomic theatre was famously painted by Rembrandt (Anatomic class).
Highlight D: Het Trippenhuis
This outstanding building also knows a long history. Het Trippenhuis is named after the two men that ordered the construction, Louys and Hendrick Trip. Behind the façade, you would find two houses, one for each of the brothers, and on the ground floor a combined comptoir, or big office. This building stands out and especially did so at the time, because of its decorative façade and incredible size. The house was built here, and not on the newer canals on purpose so that it would stand out more compared to the smaller houses in this neighborhood. The decorations are uncommon in the Amsterdam architecture, especially in normal residential houses, but the brothers Trip wanted to show off their success and to compete with the Dam square palace (back then still the city hall).
In the nineteenth century, het Trippenhuis housed the Rijksmuseum, but it quickly grew too small. A part of the new collection was moved to Haarlem, whilst the older collection, among which the Nachtwacht was kept here until Pierre Cuypers finished the Rijksmuseum building we all know in 1885. At the moment het Trippenhuis houses the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences.
Highlight E: Zuiderkerk & Zuidertoren
The eighty-year-war took place over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Netherlands was a part of the Spanish Habsbourg kingdom at that time. The war started as a protest against the high taxes, the medieval way of governing by the new king Filipp II and as a protest in favor of religious freedom. The Christian church had split and Protestantism gained more popularity in the Netherlands. But after the protests had started, Filipp II hit back hard with more taxes and prohibited any other religion than Catholicism. The protest radicalized. Many cities in the Netherlands became protestant. One of the last Catholic cities was Amsterdam. Isolated from the rest of the Netherlands trade became scarce and hunger ruled the city. In 1578, a group of protestants took control over the city. Many religious refugees moved to Amsterdam and the two Catholic churches, the New Church and the Old Church, that had been transformed into protestant churches soon proved to be too small. Plans were made for a new, Protestant church, the first Protestant-built church in the Netherlands. This became the Zuiderkerk (Southernchurch).
After the isolation from the rest of the country, Amsterdam lacked the money to build the new church. The city had to deal with some great losses, and trade had to start up again. Around 1600 a pandemic did not make the situation easier. Because of the many deaths the pandemic caused, the graveyard was the first part of the church to be finished. The graveyard was located at the square that surrounds the church. The first stone of the church was laid in 1603, but the church and tower were not finished until 1614.
In summer you are able to climb the Southern Tower. You will join a guided tour, where you will learn more about the history of the church, neighborhood and city. The view from the balcony is amazing and seeing the city from one of the church towers is something you can’t miss out on.
Highlight F: Staalmeestersbrug
For centuries there has been an old-style drawbridge in this location. Over time it had to be replaced and renovated a few times, but the style stayed the same. The bridge we see here now was constructed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Right before the new construction, it was proposed to replace the old-style bridge with a broader fixed bridge since it would be less vulnerable. But the municipality’s beauty-committee was able to save the bridge after all and they had some good reasons. The municipality expected an increased traffic flow in this area, but the beauty-committee pointed out that this would be difficult since the small streets in this neighborhood would not allow much more traffic. Besides, the municipality wanted to discourage busy areas from overrunning and so the Beauty-committee rightfully pointed out that a broad fixed bridge would only increase the business here. Last but not least, the bridge has a beautiful view on the Zuidertoren and also by itself plays an important role in the scenery of the city. A previous version of this bridge, with the Zuidertoren in the background, was painted by Monet in 1874.
Today the Staalmeesterbrug is seen as one of the most romantic places in the city.
Highlight G: Huis de Pinto
The first construction of the Pinto huis was already built at the beginning of the 17th century. But it got its current look at the end of the seventeenth century, commissioned by David de Pinto, and designed by Elias Bouman, who was also responsible for the Portuguese-Israeli Synagogue on Waterlooplein. The house stands in the Lastage neighborhood, which housed many painters, art-traders and jewelers in the seventeenth century. It was also part of the Jewish neighborhood, since many of the residences were Jewish.
After the second world war, many of the former residents did not return. The Lastage neighborhood was empty, and during the Hunger Winter (the tough winter at the end of the war) some of the empty houses were demolished so its wood could be used for fires. In the ‘50s plans were made to demolish the entire neighborhood, to make room for a new highway and the new metro system. None of the houses on this street survived except one. The Huis de Pinto was squatted by members of the Association of Friends of the Amsterdam City Center, who fought for the preservation of monumental Amsterdam. They created the De Pinto foundation and they were able to preserve and restore the building to its former glory.
With the survival of the Huis de Pinto, the plan for the highway through the Lastage neighborhood was cancelled. The Sint-Antoniesbreestraat is still known as the scar of the city since most of its original houses have been demolished. From the top of the Zuidertoren, this scar is painfully clear.
Highlight H: Montelbaanstoren
The brick part of the Montelbaanstoren was built in 1516 as a look-out tower over the Southern-sea (now the IJsselmeer). It was built after an attack by the Duke of Gelre, which was in the east of the Netherlands, who destroyed almost the entire Lastage neighborhood. The duke of Alba (a.k.a. Alva), a Spanish general and governor of the Netherlands at the beginning of the eighty-year-war, had plans to build a castle next to the tower. The castle’s name would be Monte Albano, and so the tower was called “Monte-Albaens-Tooren”, but it was soon popularly known as the Montelbaanstoren. The tower lost its function at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Hendrick de Keyser, a famous seventeenth-century architect, who also built the Zuiderkerk and many other buildings in the city, added the crown of the tower. Next to the crown being decorative, he also added some bells and a clock, so the tower had a new function.
Some interesting facts:
– The Montelbaanstoren was also known as Malle Jaap (“Crazy Jaap”), after the bell ringer, who sometimes spontaneously rang the bells in-between hours.
– Even though the tower had little function after the expansion of the city, and the tower has had some troubles over the years, like tilting too much to one side and needing multiple restorations, the tower has always been loved by the residents of the city and has been a favorite subject for many artists over the years.
– Between 2010 and 2013 the tower housed the Secret Garden, an interest group that comes up for the rights of homosexual, bisexual and transgender Muslims. What a beautiful way to give function to the tower.
Your Fav Hidden Gems
The above highlights are just some of our favorite spots along the way. If something catches your eye while en route, share a picture with us so we can share with the group next week. Email is best to firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
We also really love to go on the bike to Amsterdam North and the countryside nearby. If you are interested you can always ask us to guide you on a Private Bike Tour to the Countryside.
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