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Westertoren


April 27th, 2007 | Last updated: November 30th, 2012


In the diary of her life during the Second World War, Anne Frank wrote that she could hear the bells of the Westerkerk. Indeed, the Anne Frank House is just a stone’s throw away from Amsterdam’s — no, Holland’s — most famous church.

The Westerkerk, and specifically its tower, occupies a unique place in the hearts of true Amsterdammers. It is much sung about, especially by the people of the Jordaan district, who claim it as their Westertoren.

Amsterdam: Westertoren old style
Westertoren old style

Strictly speaking the Westerkerk is just outside the Jordaan, as it is situated on the Eastern border of Prinsengracht, but its tower can be seen from many vantage points in the popular district.

The tower bears the symbol of the imperial crown of Maximilian of Austria, which was his gift to the city in gratitude for support given tot the Austro-Burgundian princes. [See also: Amsterdam's Emblem]

The Westerkerk was built between 1620 and 1632, but its 85-meter tower was not finished until 1638.

During the most recent renovations, finished in April, 2007, the tower’s crown and the city emblem — regained their original colors. The jury is still out on whether people prefer the yellow crown or the current blue one. Fact remains that the 85-meter (278 feet) tower is impressive.

Boudewijn Zwart, Carillonneur for the city of Amsterdam, even plays ‘heavy metal’

It’s worth climbing to the top of the tower (186 steps to the sixth floor) for a superb view of the city.

Rembrandt van Rijn

Until his death, the now famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn lived in a rented house at Rozengracht 184, where he died as a pauper.

At the time it was common practice to bury people in the nearest church, and for Rembrandt that was the Westerkerk. On October 8th, 1669 he was buried in a rented grave inside the church. While a record of his burial exists, the location of his grave was not identied.

Amsterdam: Westertoren new style
Westertoren new style

It is speculated that he shares a grave with his son, Titus, who died a year earlier.

Architecture

Hendrick de Keyser, the city architect, built the church in Dutch Renaissane style, which is characterized by a combination of brick and stone. The long vertical lines are reminiscent of the Gothic style. The building is in the shape of a rectangle. Two rows of triplet-pillars support a clerestory in the form of a Greek cross. The church is 29 metres wide, 28 metres high, and has 36 windows. The nave is covered by a wooden barrel vault, of the type used extensively in coastal regions of the low countries, where the soft soil did not allow heavy vaulting. From 1985-1990 the church was completely restored. The electric chandeliers were then replaced by 12 replicas of the original chandeliers.

In the medieval tradition the tower, more than 85 metres high, stands projecting from the centre of the west facade. It was completed in 1638. The base of the tower, up to the first gallery, is of brick, while the sections above this is constructed mainly of wood with a facing of sandstone. The uppermost sections are also of wood, with an outer covering of lead.
Bells

The hour bell is the heaviest in Amsterdam and weighs more than 7.500 kilograms; its hammer 200 kilograms.

The carillon, or set of tuned bells, was cast by François Hemony, who came from Lorraine, and was extensively restored in 1959. It now consists of 50 bells.

Every Tuesday from 12 to 1 o’clock the carillon is played.
- Source: Westerkerk

Church Services

The Westerkerk is one of the local parishes of the Dutch Reformed (Presbyterian) Church. On account of the ecumenical character of its services, every Sunday a great many churchgoers from all over Amsterdam and from outside the city worship here.

Services are held in the Dutch language.

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