Amsterdam’s world famous ‘Canal Ring’, locally known as ‘Grachtengordel’, is the historical urban ensemble which was established during the ‘Golden Age’ of the Dutch history. The Canal District, as it is often referred as, comprises of an extensive network of canals, those run for more than one hundred kilometers forming concentric belts around the city. The canal system was a part of a long-term program undertaken during the 17th century which involved extending the city by draining the swamp off the inland using the canals dug in concentric arcs.
The canal system was the successful outcome of the town planning & it played a vital role in the city’s urban expansion as it made a substantial space available for new development. The intermediate spaces between the canals was utilized for erecting homogenous gabled canal-side estates & majestic monuments, which later on, became the iconic characteristic of the city. Currently, nearly 1550 monumental buildings flank the city’s main canals & 1,500 bridges which are built across, adorn this beautiful water network.
HISTORY BEHIND THE CONSTRUCTION:
The Dutch maritime success during the Golden Age, resulted in a significant rise in the immigration in the early part of the 17th century, which led to the urban expansion. A comprehensive plan was laid comprising of four main, concentric half-circular canals with their ends flowing into the IJ Bay. Three of the canals namely- ‘Herengracht’, ‘Keizersgracht’ & ‘Prinsengracht’ were meant for the residential development & the last one, the outermost- ‘Singelgracht’ was dug for the defense & water management.
Construction started from west to east, in the lateral direction. The northwestern sector was started in 1613 & continued till 1625, whereas, construction in the southern sector was started slowly in 1664 due to an economic depression. The eastern part, covering the area between the ‘IJ Bay’ & the ‘Amstel River’, was left deserted & in subsequent centuries, the land was used mostly for the Botanical garden, theatres, old age homes, public facilities & for waterways, without much planning.
IMPORTANT CANALS IN THE CANAL BELT
Inward to outward, the canals are located as follows:
Singel: The innermost canal ‘Singel’, encircled the medieval city of ‘Amsterdam’ & served as a moat around the city between 1480 & 1585. This canal should not be confused with the outermost canal ‘Singelgracht’. ‘Singel’ runs from the IJ Bay, near ‘Central Station’ to the ‘Munteplenin Square’, where it flows into the Amstel River.
Herengrcht: The ‘Herengracht’ which means the ‘Lord’s or the Patrician’s Canal’, was named after the Heren Regeerdes who governed the city during 16th & the 17th century. It was the first & the most elegant of the three major canals of ‘Amsterdam’.
Keizersgracht: The ‘Emperor’s Canal’ or the ‘Keizersgracht’, was the second & the widest of the pack & was named after Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.
Prinsengracht: It is the last & the lengthiest of the main canals in the city & was named after the Prince of Orange. The canal is flanked by the gabled houses from the Dutch Golden Era & the bridges built over it connects with streets in the ‘Jordaan’!
THE MOST POPULAR ATTRACTIONS:
Het Grachtenhuis: It is the ‘Museum of the Canals’ that enlightens details of the ‘Canal Ring’ & its development over the centuries.
Anne Frank’s House: The house where the Jewish teenager girl ‘Anne Frank’ wrote her world famous diary while hiding with her family from the Nazi carnage. The house is very much popular among the visitors & it often gets flocked by the hordes of the tourists.
The Canal Tours: Canal Cruises are the most loved attractions of ‘Amsterdam’. Number of operators provide cruises from different departure points throughout the city, providing valuable insights of the city’s most remarkable spots. A variety of tour packages are available ranging from an hour-long trip to all-day experience including a romantic candlelight dinner cruise.
Festivities on the water: The canals host multitudes of events on or alongside the water. The end of ‘April’ marks the celebration of the ‘King’s Day’ wherein, the canals gets packed with the floating party-revelers. The annual ‘Gay Pride Parade’ highlights the month of ‘August’ featuring the canal parade of decorated barges amidst thumping music & lots of revelry! The ‘Grachtenfestival’ (Canal Festival) is also famous for its unending fun & gaiety.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE AMSTERDAM’S CANAL RING:
The iconic canal network provides stunning backdrop for several cultural as well as sporting events held in the city throughout the year. UNESCO has also recognized the historical significance of this exemplary town planning system, which served as the role model throughout the world until the 19th century & included the ‘Canal Ring’ area, including the major canals- the ‘Prinsengracht’, ‘Keizersgracht’, ‘Herengracht’ & ‘Jordaan’, in the list of the ‘World Heritage Sites’ in 2010. This world-renowned ‘Canal District’ marked its 400-year anniversary recently in the year 2013.
Nowadays, the historic ‘Canal District’ forms the thumping heart of the elegant city of ‘Amsterdam’. Special Canal District hotels, restaurants & museums testify the glory & the vibrance that have been persistent in the city since past 400 years of Amsterdam’s history. This city of Tulips & windmills, which is popularly known as the ‘Venice of the North’ is worth visiting at least once in the lifetime!