Historic Amsterdam

As well as bringing you our regular (and popular!) series of Amsterdam travel hints and tips, our aim is to also develop Erasmus Amsterdam into a quality information and content resource for everyone visiting and staying in Amsterdam.

In this, the first of a brand new series of Historic Amsterdam articles, we will be delving into the past of the Dutch capital city and discovering how the city’s unique history and heritage impacts on the modern-day metropolis.

The City Built on Wood

It’s probably hard to imagine a city with a population of over 800,000 being built on foundations of wood.
This is however exactly how the ingenious people of historic Amsterdam worked around building a place to live on reclaimed land.

Huge wooden stilts, actually entire trees up to 20 metres long, driven down through the swamp-like ground and into the firmer sediment below, were used as the foundations to support homes and buildings of the city.
Anchored in pairs with a gap of just 80cm between them, heavy supporting beams were fixed on top of the stilts and layered with several blocks of stone, before being sealed with a water-resistant mortar of lime and sand.
Inevitably, some of these wooden foundations have become a victim of the conditions and as a consequence, a number of supports have subsided. Giving certain buildings of historic Amsterdam an eccentric and peculiar ‘lean.’
Yes, tilting and sinking houses are a modern reality in historic Amsterdam.

Modern-Day Threat To Historic Amsterdam

However, it may not be age alone taking its toll on the foundations of the Dutch capital. The centuries old city centre could be facing a modern-day threat.
Climate change.
Some experts believe the knock-on effects of longer dry periods could be critical to the well-being of historic Amsterdam.

A drop in water levels which in turn exposes the wooden foundations, leading to dry rot, decay and crumbling of the supports, could be the No. 1 threat to some of Amsterdam’s most treasured houses and buildings.

As yet, there is no scientific evidence linking global warming and a drop in Amsterdam’s water levels. One thing is certain however, the city council are concerned enough to have included a link between climate change and the sinking buildings of historic Amsterdam in their Structural Vision for Amsterdam 2040.

The leaning houses of Amsterdam are woven into the fabric of the city and with a two-pronged preservation solution; replacement of wooden stilts with concrete and a diligent watch on the water levels within the city, visitors will be able to enjoy the dancing houses of historic Amsterdam for generations to come!

Have you visited Historic Amsterdam and its Dancing Houses?* We’d love to hear from you!
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