A CLOSER LOOK AT HET GRACHTENHUIS THE MUSEUM OF CANALS
BY WENDY HUGHES
Anyone visiting Amsterdam will want to book a cruise around its canals, but before you do, it is worth taking a trip to the Museum of the Canals (Het Grachtenhuis Herengracht 386, or the Canal House). It is the perfect way to learn more about the history of Amsterdam’s Canal Ring. The museum is situated in a monumental building on the Herengracht, one of the three main canals and considered to be the most important in the city. It was here in the 17th century that the richest merchants, as well as the most influential regents and mayors of the city lived. Even today, an address on the Herengracht is seen as prestigious and trendy.
THE HISTORIC HOUSE
The museum is located in a 17th Century aristocratic house overlooking the Herengracht canal. It’s width at around 16m or 52 ft, supports its grandeur, because of the cost of the building ground. Most of the townhouses were built tall and narrow, on a small but deep parcel. The house interiors, with its beautiful wall paintings and partly preserved authentic floors, so you will see today how centuries ago these houses looked like inside.
It was designed for the rich merchant Karel Gerards by the then famous architect, Phillips Vingboons (1607-1678), the house was completed in 1667. It was later owned by several important bankers and business people, its interior bearing witness to many of the important historical transactions. It was here that Dutch loans given by the Amsterdam banker Jan Willink to the government of the United States in the 18th century were signed. The Netherlands at that time was one of the few world republics (Republic of Venice was another) and effectively supported United States during its War of Independence with the Kingdom of Great Britain.
The exhibition in the house overlooking the Herengracht was an initiative of one man – a Dutch industrialist, who in 2009 purchased the residence and transformed it into the museum. Today Het Grachtenhuis is run by a foundation. This maybe a small modern museum, but the multimedia presentation makes it a popular and simplified view of history, and is essential to visitors interested in the expansion of Amsterdam. Two nearby museums named after the owners of the historical houses – museum Van Loon and Museum Willet-Holthuysen are both within 15 minutes walking distance, and offer a glimpse into the fully furnished interior of these canal houses.
400 YEARS OF CANAL HISTORY UNDER ONE ROOF
The museum looks at the growth of the city in the 17th-century that led to the canals being dug out. In 2010 the canals received UNESCO world heritage status adding to Amsterdam’s fame as the Venice of the North.
This permanent exhibition is open the entire year round and has six interactive rooms where the visitor can witness the history of the city and its canals with the aid of clever multimedia bringing the story alive and providing a whole new way of looking at the Amsterdam canals. The exhibition starts around 1600 and takes you
on a fantastic journey through the development of the canals. It shows you why the creation of the canals is unusual and why they are still special today. It begins with the situation in Amsterdam before the construction of the canal ring area called in Dutch ‘Grachtengordel’ – Amsterdam Belt Area – and tells the story of the digging of the city three main canals – Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, the creation of tens of smaller cross canals, the partition of building lots, as well as the construction of the new fast growing city, which was not easy due to the wet and muddy conditions.
The visit to Het Grachtenhuis will takes less than an hour, and the highlights are a wonderful miniature model of the canal house, very much in the tradition of the Dutch Golden Age, enriched with the delights of multimedia, and the big urban model of the canal ring area, helping the visitor to understand the history of the Amsterdam canal area, and the social structure of the city, its traditions and spirit. Finally in the last room you will discover the power of the living canals themselves. There is an audio tour available in eight different languages – English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin) & Dutch.
On the ground floor of Het Grachtenhuis you can visit beautiful period rooms, boasting great views on the canals in front of the house and the spectacular garden at the back.
The museum shop offers souvenirs that have a link with the Amsterdam canals and the Canal House including books, jewellery, scarves, cups, notebooks, pens and wine. The shop can be accessed without an entrance ticket to the museum.
Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm Closed on January 1, April 26 and December 25.
HOW TO GET THERE
Walking: The museum is located within 15 minutes walk from the Dam square and 5 minutes walk from the Begijnhof, close to Koningsplein By public transport: tram lines 1, 2, 5 (stop Koningsplein). By car: metered parking along the canals (€5 an hour, but be aware that most of the parking meters do not accept cash – only a credit card or bank card with a PIN).
ENTRANCE FEES (always check as prices may rise)
Adults: €12.00 Children 6/17 years: €6.00
Children under 5 years: free
Tickets can be ordered on online € 2.00 off an adult ticket and €1.00 discount on a child’s ticket: http://www.hetgrachtenhuis.nl/en/