PRESS FEATURE Amsterdam’s Golden Age The Netherlands enjoyed a Golden Age in the 17th century and Amsterdam rapidly blossomed into one of the wealthiest cities in the world. The number of people living in the city tripled from 60,000 in 1600 to 200,000 in 1650, making Amsterdam the third largest city in Europe, behind London and Paris. Nearly threequarters of Amsterdam residents in the 17th century were born elsewhere. Canals were a defining feature of Amsterdam as early as the Middle Ages, with three waterways dominating the city: the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and Achterburgwal. These canals were created parallel to the River Amstel at the heart of the city. Back then, Amsterdam was enclosed (and protected) by moats that are still present today – the Singel, Kloveniersburgwal and Geldersekade. A number of defence towers and city gates have also stood the test of time, such as the Schreierstoren, Montelbaanstoren, Waag and Munttoren. The Canal Ring: World Heritage However, Amsterdam only really shot to fame with its Canal Ring, which was constructed around the existing city from 1613 onwards. Those in the know often refer to the Amsterdam Canal Ring as the most magnificent urban plan to be developed and implemented in 17th-century Europe. In 2010, the Canal Ring received official recognition when it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In order to provide sufficient housing for the influx of new residents, three wide canals were added around the medieval city centre early in the 17th century. The impressive facades of the prominent houses in this canal ring reflect the fashion of the day: initially classicist with subsequent baroque additions. New residential neighbourhoods were built for the less distinguished immigrants to Amsterdam, concentrated in the north-west and east of the city (the Jordaan and Nieuwmarktbuurt respectively). Both neighbourhoods were home to numerous artists, including Rembrandt. Four hundred years on, 17th-century Amsterdam surprisingly still looks the part. The spirit of the Golden Age is certainly very much alive along the city centre’s wide canals and narrow alleys. | Page 2 of 9 Rapid growth As a port, Amsterdam’s rapid growth was largely the result of trade with the Baltic countries. Amsterdam merchants distributed grain acquired from Prussia and Poland throughout Europe, leading to the city becoming known as the ‘granary of Europe’. Speculative commercial enterprises sent explorers based in Amsterdam to all corners of the globe. The Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) was founded in 1602 – the first ever public limited company. This trading association provided fully-equipped ships, commodities and funds (primarily to buy the expensive spices). Subsequent to the success of the association, the Dutch West India Company was founded in 1621 to focus on America and West Africa. Back then, the Republic’s merchant navy – in which Amsterdam had the largest share – was larger than those of England, Scotland and France combined. From 1585, the city entered a new phase of whirlwind expansion: in 15 years, the city’s population doubled to 60,000. By 1660, the resident counter had hit 220,000, making Amsterdam the third largest city in Europe, behind London and Paris. In order to cope with the population explosion, major developments commenced in 1610 to expand the city to the west. It was during this expansion that the fan-shaped canal ring of the Heren¬gracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht was created – providing charming residences for the city’s prosperous merchants. Work was simultaneously conducted on the Jordaan – an industrial area and home to the less well-to-do city residents. This ambitious expansion quadrupled the surface area of Amsterdam in what was comparatively an extremely short space of time. The Amsterdam Canal Ring is unique: not only in light of its unprecedented size (160 hectares), but also because of its unusual layout. The majority of cities with canals are characterised by a rightangled structure, whereas in Amsterdam it’s formed from semicircles around the medieval core. In retrospect, the design of the Canal Ring is brilliant in its simplicity. The humanistic ideal of the period was symmetry, straight lines and a concentric plan. As such, the three main canals are not actually curved. In fact, each one consists of five kinked straight sections, which come together to form a half polygon. The central point of the ‘semicircle’ is Dam Square. Of the primary canals, the Herengracht and Keizersgracht were destined to be used exclusively for residential housing. No form of commercial activity was permitted in these houses. Warehouses and businesses such | Page 3 of 9 as beer breweries could also be found on the outermost canal, the Prinsengracht. Increasing wealth and the influence of international classicism meant that, primarily after 1660, a large amount of houses were built on double plots. These houses exude the strict French style, featuring a straight gable and wherever possible, built completely from expensive natural stone. The ‘canal-side palaces’ on the Golden Bend of the Herengracht are prime examples of such buildings. The trees lining the canals were also a highly innovative idea for the time. Amsterdam was the first city in Europe to plant trees on such a large scale: international visitors were impressed to see dual rows of lime (and later elm) trees line each newly-constructed canal – even before 1600. Visitors to the city often wondered whether to call the Canal Ring a ‘forest in the city’ or a ‘city in the forest’. After visiting Amsterdam in 1664, German author Philipp von Zesen even went so far as comparing the Canal Ring to paradise. The cultural climate In classical cities such as Rome, Venice, Madrid, Vienna and Paris, Amsterdam was viewed as something of an upstart: a city with more money than taste. After all, it was the capital of a burgeoning bourgeois republic, sandwiched between two esteemed monarchies. This is partly why, from the outset, Amsterdam invested heavily in public cultural institutions such as the Stadsschouwburg (theatre), the Athenaeum Illustre (what we now know as the University of Amsterdam) and the Hortus Botanicus (botanical gardens). By investing in making the city an architectural work of art, the city council succeeded in raising Amsterdam’s international standing. The most renowned example of this approach is perhaps the then City Hall (now the Royal Palace), a building for which no trouble or expense was spared. And in general, all governmental buildings built in Amsterdam in the 17th century were more expensive and refined than was strictly necessary, while always catering to the latest architectural leanings. Tolerance and care of the underprivileged Compared with other European capital cities, 17th-century Amsterdam stood out from the pack in at least two regards: the tolerance of other cultures and religions and the unusually extensive level of care offered to the socially underprivileged. The notion of tolerance in the city aligned | Page 4 of 9 with Amsterdam’s traditional, encompassing immigration policy. The Roman Catholic Church played a central role in other countries, but Amsterdam was home to a large number of Protestant churches. As such, Amsterdammers were accustomed to religious diversity in urban society. This tolerant attitude was also extremely pragmatic: immigration was ultimately required to allow continued economic growth. As a result of its rapid growth, the lion’s share of Amsterdam’s population in the Golden Age consisted of immigrants. Writing in 1688, the French author Hortense de Jardins aptly summed up the city’s climate of tolerance: “Amsterdam is a beautiful city. (…) Large numbers of people are arriving from an enormous range of countries; the multiplicity and diversity conjures up images of ancient Babylon. (…) Amsterdam is the most welcoming place in Europe and there’s surely no Persian or Armenian who would feel less at home here than in their native country.” Dutch philosopher Spinoza wrote: “We can count ourselves lucky to live in a republic in which everyone’s opinion is free and unrestricted, in which everyone is free to serve God as they see fit and in which freedom is, above all else, a cherished and precious commodity.” Amsterdam was also a shining light when it came to the care offered to the socially underprivileged. Pragmatic considerations also supported this approach: good community spirit and social care were a precondition of a peaceful and safe city. The authorities provided not only for orphans, the sick and elderly from the reformed bourgeoisie, but also for the masses without links to the city or a church – another aspect that set Amsterdam apart from all other cities. This wasn’t only seen as a Christian duty, it also helped avoid social problems and unrest. Amsterdam’s prison system was even socialised in the form of ‘work houses’, designed to prepare inmates for their reintegration into society. European centre of culture In the 17th century, Amsterdam became an important European centre for intellectuals and artists, in part thanks to the generous intellectual and religious freedom the city afforded them. The prosperous merchants and governors had sufficient funds to supply architects, painters and sculptors with plenty of work. Of the artists working in the period, Rembrandt van Rijn arguably became the most famous. Amsterdam as part of the Grand Tour Amsterdam’s Canal Ring rose to international fame throughout the 17th century and visitors came from far and wide to experience the marvel | Page 5 of 9 first hand. At the time, Amsterdam was the only city in the world with such clear and consistent spatial planning, opulent construction and integrated waterways, residential houses, trees and bridges. Amsterdam became a staple port of call for well-to-do travellers during their ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. A surprising amount of the city’s Golden Age opulence has stood the test of time, as you’ll see in this voyage of discovery past the ‘canal-side palaces’ of the Golden Bend, numerous other richly-decorated buildings, the web of canals surrounding Dam Square and the countless paintings and other works of art within the walls of Amsterdam’s museums. | Page 6 of 9 APPENDIX Amsterdam’s Golden Age architectural highlights A wealth of buildings, churches and canal-side properties still bear testament to Golden Age affluence, as do the paintings and other works of art housed at Amsterdam’s famous museums. However, what few tourists know is that some of the most notable Golden Age treasures are concealed within several buildings on or near Dam Square: the Royal Palace, De Nieuwe Kerk, the Westerkerk and the Amsterdam Museum. Dam Square As the main city square, ‘De Dam’ (as it’s known locally) was the beating heart of Amsterdam. This was where the pride of the Amsterdam governors – City Hall – was located, alongside De Nieuwe Kerk – the church of choice for the city’s nouveaux riche. The Royal Palace What is now the Royal Palace was built on Dam Square between 1648 and 1655 as the Amsterdam City Hall. The impressive building became the symbol of power and standing of Amsterdam in the Golden Age, surpassing all other European city halls both in terms of size and opulence. Highlights inside the building include the detailed sculptural work in the Citizen’s Hall, the Galleries and the Tribunal, from the hand of Artus Quellijn and his apprentices. The paintings in the Council Chamber and the Throne Room are by Govert Flinck and Ferdinand Bol, both students of Rembrandt. The wealthy interior provides a sharp contrast with Rembrandt’s eventual bankruptcy, which was actually made official here. The building has also played a tragic role in other aspects of Rembrandt’s life. It was primarily those he once taught who received the honourable task of supplying work to decorate the City Hall – a fact that would have surely been hard for Rembrandt to swallow. In 1661, the city council finally commissioned Rembrandt himself to paint a gigantic work: The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis. However, this painting was removed within a year of it being installed; its ‘heathen’ imagery not in line with the taste of the governors at the time. Rembrandt subsequently cut the work into pieces. The artist could perhaps take scant comfort from the fact that a fragment of his Claudius Civilis is now one of the highlights of Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum. Jurriaan Ovens (another of Rembrandt’s pupils) was commissioned to produce a work to fill the empty space where Rembrandt’s painting had | Page 7 of 9 hung. Ovens completed his painting in 1663 – a work widely regarded as being of poor quality. And as if that wasn’t enough, in 1715, the City Hall was the scene of another ‘crime’ against Rembrandt: his now world-famous The Night Watch was to be moved to the Small War Council Room. When it became apparent that it wouldn’t fit through the door, large chunks of the left and lower sides of the painting were simply chopped off. Visitors to what is now the Royal Palace are often astounded by what greets them. The 30-metre-high Citizen’s Hall is certainly impressive, as is the Tribunal, where death sentences were handed out until the 18th century. De Nieuwe Kerk Built on Dam Square in the late Middle Ages, most of De Nieuwe Kerk was ravaged by fire in the 17th century. The building has the fire to thank for its current interior, which is a glorious example of Golden Age affluence. The highlights include the finely-carved pulpit – the product of 15 years work by Albert Janszoon Vinckenbrinck and his colleagues – the copper choir screen produced by the renowned silversmith Johannes Lutma, and the tomb of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, located where the high altar once stood. The Westerkerk The Westerkerk is without doubt one of Amsterdam’s Golden Age gems. The masterwork of architect Hendrick de Keyser, the church was built between 1620 and 1631 and is one of the country’s most impressive Dutch Renaissance buildings. The interior is simple, but has impressive three-dimensional detailing. The Bentheim sandstone floor was given a new lease of life during restoration works, which also saw the reintroduction of the 17th-century brass candelabras, complete with the red and black Amsterdam city arms. Other highlights of the church include Rembrandt’s memorial stone. The artist was buried here in 1669 in a poor man’s grave and the exact location of his resting place remains unknown. Built in 1680 by Roelof Duyschot, the Westerkerk’s huge organ is hard to miss. The organ-case dates to 1682 and is decorated in biblical scenes, painted by Gerard de Lairesse. You’ll also notice several chambers (pothuizen) around the perimeter of the church – now home to tiny shops selling illustrations, antiques and curiosities. | Page 8 of 9 Golden Age residential properties Many Golden Age properties were adapted in the subsequent century in accordance with the prevailing fashion. As such, a lot of Amsterdam’s 17th-century properties feature an 18th-century facade in the Rococo or Louis XVI style. However, there are also plenty of houses that have remained largely untouched. Houses built in the period 1600-1625: Singel 140-142: De Vergulde Dolphijn (The Gilded Dolphin), designed c. 1600 by architect Hendrick de Keyser. Herengracht 120: De Coningh van Denemarken, 1615. Herengracht 170-172: Huis Bartolotti, 1617. Keizersgracht 123: Huis met de Hoofden (The House with the Heads), 1622. Oudezijds Voorburgwal 249: Huis op de Drie Grachten (House on Three Canals), 1610. Kattegat 4-6: De Gouden en Zilveren Spiegel (The Golden and Silver Mirror), 1614. Houses built in the period 1625-1660: Herengracht 168, designed in 1638 by architect Philips Vingboons. Features Amsterdam’s first neck-gable. Herengracht 364-370: Cromhouthuizen, designed in 1662 by Philips Vingboons. Keizersgracht 319: designed in 1639 by Philips Vingboons. Keizersgracht 387, 1668. Prinsengracht 92, 1661. Singel 83-85: Veerhuis De Zwaan, 1652. Singel 460: Odeon, designed in 1662 by Philips Vingboons. Oudezijds Voorburgwal 187, 1663. Oudezijds Voorburgwal 316: De Ladder Jacobs (Jacob’s Ladder), designed in 1655 by Philips Vingboons. Oude Turfmarkt 145, designed in 1642 by Philips Vingboons. Kloveniersburgwal 29: Trippenhuis, designed in 1662 by Justus Vingboons. Bloemgracht 87/91, built in 1642. Amsterdam, January 2015 | Page 9 of 9 Note to the editor: The information may be freely referenced or copied if the source is credited: www.iamsterdam.com. The above information is subject to change and Amsterdam Marketing accepts no responsibility for inaccuracies in published information. Public information: www.iamsterdam.com and T. +31 (0)20 702 60 00 Photographs and texts for media: mediabank.iamsterdam.com Amsterdam Marketing: www.iamsterdam.com Press Office: iamsterdam.com/media-centre For more press information and images: Amsterdam Marketing Press Office: [email protected] T. +31 (0)20 702 62 65 About Amsterdam Marketing Amsterdam Marketing is the city marketing organisation of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, active in the fields of promotion, information, research and services. 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