Prinsengracht and Leidsegracht

While crossing a bridge over the Leidsegracht where it intersects Prinsengracht, Pieter Goemans was inspired to write the song, “Aan de Amsterdamsche Grachten” (To the Canals of Amsterdam). That was in 1949.

Dick Schallies, of the well-known Dutch Metropole Orchestra, wrote a melody for it. Johnny Kraaikamp was the first to sing it, but it wasn’t until 1956 that singer/actor Hans Boskamp cut a record with the song.

Later the song was covered by dozens of artists. The most popular version is by Win Sonneveld.

After Goemans died, in 2000, his ashes were scattered at the intersection of Prinsengracht and Leidsegracht.

The rendition in this video is by Tante Leen, a popular singer from the Jordaan district.

Many a foreigner, while not quite clear on the lyrics, can at least agree with the sentiment of the song:

To the canals of Amsterdam
I have pledged my whole heart
Amsterdam fills my thoughts
As our country’s most beautiful city

All those Amsterdam people
All lights late in the evening on the square
Nobody can wish for anything better
Than to be an Amsterdammer

At house stands at a canal in old Amsterdam
Where as a boy of eight I visited my grandmother
No I see an unfamiliar man in the front room
And that lovely attic has also been turned into an office

Only the trees dream, high above the traffic
And over the water sails a boat, just like back then

In August 2010 Amsterdam’s historic grachtengordel (literally, belt of canals) around the city’s center has been added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Kattengat, Amsterdam

The two houses with the red shutters were built in 1614 by soap maker Laurens Jansz Spiegel. The houses are topped with sculptured mirrors in reference to the family name. Spiegel is Dutch for mirror.

The wealthy merchant, who built the houses as a form of investment, called the building ‘De Gouden Spiegel’ (The Gold Mirror) and ‘De Silveren Spiegel’ (The Silver Mirror).

Before 1600 Kattengat, the street were these houses are found, was a ditch in a neighborhood full of warehouses and businesses. Eventually the ditch was turned into a small canal between the Singel and the Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal (nowadays Spuistraat) canals. At the time any narrow alley or ditch was referred to as ‘kattengat’ — an opening so small only a cat could negotiate it.

The houses, which have a timber framework, were restored in 1931. They currently are home to the highly-acclaimed De Silveren Spiegel restaurant, which offers traditional Dutch cuisine.

Note: During World War II 16 Jews hid in the attic.

The Canals of Amsterdam

Originally the canals of Amsterdam had several functions:

• they allowed for goods to be delivered from the harbor (and the markets at Dam square and Nieuwmarkt) to storage facilities and stores throughout thecity.

• they were used as defence moats

• they served to guide the water of the Amstel River through its former delta.

Nowadays its most popular use is recreation.

Taking a canal tour is one of Amsterdam’s top tourist attractions.

Swimming in the canals is discouraged — if not outright prohibited. People do fall in, though. Those who live to tell about it are always taken to a hospital for a tetanus shot.

Note that many of the houseboats lining the canals are not yet hooked up to the city’s sewer system.

The House with the Huge Noses, Amsterdam

The canal-side building at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 232 in Amsterdam was built in 1626 as commissioned by Pieter Parys.

The coat of arms topping the gable depicts the alliance between the builder, the trader Jan-Frederik Mamouchette and his wife Catherina van Heusden.

Some view the remarkably large noses as a charicature, perhaps in reference to a play on words — Ma Mouchette roughly meaning ‘my trunk.’

Others see it as a reference to the Saracen due to trade relations that existed between this house and merchants in Palestine.

In other words, no one is sure what the noses are in reference to.

The building was restored between 1993 and 1997.