The leaning canal houses of Amsterdam would indicate that the city’s on a bit of a tilt. And, if you’re wondering, no I didn’t partake of anything I shouldn’t have in its infamous coffee shops. Well maybe just the odd glass of red…. But as we walked the pretty canals of the city we soon noticed that many of the tall, skinny, buildings were on a distinct teeter. In fact some looked positively tipsy, trying to stand straight but leaning every which way.
Leaning Houses Amsterdam
Until I saw for myself I had no idea that the buildings were so skewed. Amsterdam structures suffer, to a large extent, from subsidence and many buildings built on wooden stilts have foundation problems which account for their somewhat squiffy appearance.
Some buildings lean so far forward that they look in danger of collapse – but there is, in fact, method in their tilted madness – and not due to subsidence. These houses have very narrow, steep staircases and, in times gone by, in a city prone to flooding, it would have been impossible to quickly shift goods and possessions of any value to the higher floors.
Many of the structures have a cantilevered beam and hook protruding from the gable at roof height which could be used to winch possessions, and merchandise in the case of warehouses, to the upper levels. The houses were built with a forward incline to help prevent items from colliding with the building façade on their way up.
The gables to which the winch and pulleys are attached hint at some of the history of the buildings. The gabled architecture gradually evolved from simple ‘triangle’ and ‘stepped’ gables to more decorative ‘neck’ and ‘’bell’ gables.
Due to instability of the land the planning laws in the 15th century were strict; planning required that facades be built of lightweight materials with large windows to reduce weight. Taxes were charged according to the width of the frontage which explains why most canal houses are lean and skinny.
During the 17th century the city became more prosperous and with that wider, double-fronted merchant houses sprung up along the Gentlemen’s Canal and Golden Bend with elaborate gables and statuary.
Anne Frank Huis
Probably the most famous house in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank house, which attracts around a million visitors a year. For over two years Anne Frank and her family hid in the annex of the building at Prinsengracht 263 where Anne’s father, Otto Frank, had his business. Whenever we passed the building there were long queues lining up outside for tickets – we’d booked online and bypassed the queues but I’d recommend you do this a couple of weeks in advance to get your chosen times.
The museum is a sobering and thought-provoking experience and the exhibits portray the hardships that the family endured – and to no avail since Otto Frank was the only surviving family member to walk free from the concentration camps. Pushing the door disguised as a bookcase to ascend the stairs to the attic was a particularly poignant experience. Having had an insight into the occupants’ lives through the exhibits and displays on the way through the building I felt incredibly saddened knowing I was following a route they’d trod many times to their secret hiding place.
Our Amsterdam Hotel
We stayed at The Convent Hotel (hmmm!) a five-minute walk from Centraal Station, a few minutes walk from Dam Square and one street along from the Singel Canal – a perfect spot as many city highlights are within walking distance.
The hotel has, in the past, been home to two monasteries and the headquarters of Dutch newspaper ‘De Tijd’. It is made up of five buildings and there are many original features hinting at its past. We found it a perfect base for our stay in Amsterdam.
Canal Houses, Amsterdam