The golden period of the Amsterdam canals The three major canals of the city were excavated and the residences around them were erected in a 50-year-long expansion project. These man-powered boats fed over a thousand stores along the canals. When the workers stopped to eat or sleep, the boats stayed put.
The canal belt The area surrounding Amsterdam is rich in ancient canals and ponds. They were dug by Dutch settlers who wanted to drain land that was otherwise impassable due to polders (former fields that have been reclaimed for agriculture). The canals provided an efficient means of transport for goods between towns and cities, so they became very popular. Today, these canals are one of the main attractions for tourists visiting the region.
Canal tours You can enjoy a boat tour of the canals with a local guide. These 90-minute tours offer great insight into 18th-century life in Amsterdam: the houses, businesses, and people that you see on the tour today would have been living in those buildings back then! There are several companies that run canal tours, but only a few of them use modern boats; the others still use traditional wooden barges called "coaches."
You should expect to pay about $25 for a ticket price including admission fees and guide services. However, discounts are available for students, families, and groups of 10 or more people.
The 17th century was Amsterdam's Golden Age, and trade boomed. The three major canals of the city were excavated and the residences around them were erected in a 50-year-long expansion project. Thousands of little barges transported products from the large ships in the harbor to every area of the city. This method of transportation was called "water taxiing".
Amsterdam is built on islands that were once one big island. In the middle of the 16th century, sea levels suddenly dropped due to ice melting at the poles. This left only a few feet of water between then and now. The people of Amsterdam used their boats to transport themselves and their goods to areas that now are parts of the city.
They built their homes near the canals so they could easily get their goods to market. The neighborhoods were composed of houses with rooms facing the canal or the garden. There were no streets back then, just canals. A house owner might have access to several different paths leading to his or her home. These paths were not always wide enough for carts to pass each other, which is why many buildings had their front doors set back from the street.
People hired artists and builders from all over Europe to construct their homes. They used any opportunity they could find to expand their businesses. For example, when canals were being dug, both commercial and personal properties were moved out of the way.
Amsterdam's canals in the Middle Ages The first canals were created for the purpose of water management and defense. As the city grew in the Middle Ages, successive defense moats became encased within the walls and lost their usefulness. They did, however, acquire a significant new one: local merchandise transportation. Since boats were used for this purpose, merchants needed a way to connect up and down the banks of the canals. This was accomplished by building bridges over the channels.
Today's bridges are mostly copies of the original wooden structures built between 1450 and 1650. They include three types of bridge: central span bridges, multiple-span arch bridges, and suspension bridges.
Canal bridges were once the most common form of river bridge in Europe. There are still many canal bridges in use across the world today. One of the oldest surviving canal bridges is the De Parelbrink in Amsterdam. It opened in 1663 and is a central span bridge with a width of about 30 feet (9 m).
The next type of bridge to appear was the arched bridge. These days we usually call them "suspension bridges", but that term is misleading because the Dutch called them "archen" or "arches". The first recorded archen in Amsterdam was built in 1662 by the painter Jacob van Ruisdael. It had a length of 100 feet (30 m) and was made of wood.