/ The Amsterdam Guide
Amsterdam — By Marianne on May 8, 2010 at 10:48 am
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Look Sky High When In Amsterdam

When in Amsterdam, look sky high. Marvel at architectural glories and ornamented gables. Amsterdam is like an open-air museum. Just a word of warning: Trying to see all gables, may lead to a stiff neck.

Have you noticed the leaning façades of the canal houses? Don’t worry. The houses are not tumbling down. The tilt is deliberate and restricted to a ratio of 1:25, dictated by a 16th century law. The top floor protrudes and protects the ground floor from getting soaked. Look up again. Do you see the hoisting beams? House owners paid taxes on the width of their houses. That is why all houses in the 16th and 17th century were tall and narrow. The outside pulleys lifted furniture that was too bulky for the stairs. The lean prevented the hoisted items from hitting the wall or breaking windows.

Abraham Tuschinski’s movie theatre was a sensation when it opened in 1921. Other cinemas were dark places. Tuschinski’s interior was awash with colour; a flamboyant blend of Art Deco with Amsterdam School architecture and touches of Art Nouveau. The entrance hall, the corridors and the auditorium show a mixture of swirling forms, geometrical ornaments and rational use of materials.
The theatre’s façade at Reguliersbreestraat 26-34 (map) is a blend of Art Deco and Amsterdamse School. Study the delightful details and step into the central hall for more swirling decorations. Even better, go to a movie. Films are shown in the original language with Dutch subtitles.

Carved stones tablets identified houses before Napoleon introduced house numbering in 1795. You can these plaques over the doorways, under windows or under the eaves. They are still popular and many house owners like to have them on their house front. I am always happy to see a date, because then I know if the wall tablet is old or recent. Keep an eye out for them, they are all over the city. Would not it be lovely to say: I live at the House of the Golden Goat, rather than No. 21.

Keizersgracht 123  is an elegant step-gabled canal-side house with six heads adorning its façade. Legend has it that one evening the housemaid was alone in the house and caught six burglars red-handed. She cut off their heads and put them on show in front of the house. In actual fact the sculptures depict six Roman deities: Apollo, Ceres, Mars, Minerva, Bacchus and Diana.

The entrance to Begijnhof (map) is at Spui. This sanctuary was originally built for a lay Catholic sisterhood who educated the poor and looked after the sick. Today it is a sought-after place to live as it is right in Amsterdam’s old centre. Look up at the plaque above the door of number 19. It depicts the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. There are more plaques on the wall behind number 32.

Almost all houses lining the canals are graced with decorative gables which often reveal the profession of the first owner. Trippenhuis at Kloveniersburgwal 29 (map), is very special. Its facade is peppered with military insignia. The chimneys resemble mortars. The very wealthy original owners, the Trip brothers, owned a gunnery business.

This is only a small selection of high-placed sights in Amsterdam. Enjoy your visit and always look sky high!

photo credits:
tilting facade:
Mikko @flickr
Wall plaque: personal collection


Related places:
  1. A
    Path Tuschinski
    View Details and Book
  2. B
    Begijnhof, 1012 Amsterdam
    View Details and Book
  3. C
    Sticht. tot steun Neth. Acad. of Technology and Innovation
    View Details and Book


  • Christina says:

    I love everything you write! I am thinking about joining my husband in the Netherlands after a business trip ends (November I think). He’ll be in The Hague. I’m keeping a close eye on everything you write!

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