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Oudezijds Kolk, one of Amsterdam’s last sluices dating to the Middle Ages

When you walk along the Zeedijk, at one point you cross the Oudezijds Kolk.

The Oudezijds Kolk is a narrow sluice that runs from the Oosterdok — the water to the north of Prins Hendrikkade — to the Oudezijds Voorburgwal.

A sidewalk runs along the narrow canal on one side, while at the other side the backsides of several buildings — including the St. Nicholas Church and a former paint factory — stand directly in the water.

If you understand what the name means (and you’d be surprised how many Amsterdam locals don’t know) you are on your way to understanding how this short canal fits into the history and life of the City.

Oudezijds Kolk

Oudezijds Kolk, seen from the Prins Hendrikkade

This picture is part of the collection of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. and has — according to the Library — no known restrictions on reproduction.

‘Oudezijds’ = Old Side.

‘Kolk’ = Kolk (or colc), which according to Wikipedia is “an underwater vortex that is created when rapidly rushing water passes an underwater obstacle in boundary areas of high shear.” It’s something similar to a tornade, but then in water. Kolks were first identified by the Dutch.

In this case, the word refers to the rushing of the water whenever the lock — located where the Oudezijds Kolk crosses Zeedijk — was opened. Known as the Kolksluis (Kolk Sluice), this is one of Amsterdam’s oldest, still functioning locks dating from the Middle Ages. Technically, the kolk is the area between both pairs of sluice doors.

In times past the Kolksluis was part of a system of locks that had two main functions:

• protect against high tide
• help refresh the water in the canals

When the locks were closed the water of the river Amstel would fill the canals, raising the water level.

By opening the locks at low tide a certain amount of water would rush to the sea, and thus the canals would be refreshed. In Dutch, this process is called ‘spuien’ (= sluicing).

Photo Spots

Standing on the bridge that now tops the lock, look south to the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, the Armbrug, and — further — the Old Church. It is an excellent spot from which to take great photos.

If you take the sidewalk to Prins Hendrikkade, you’ll find another great photo spot from which you can photograph the sluice, and lock, and — perfectly lined-up — the Old Church.

Along the way, notice the buildings. The Oudezijds Kolk is home to several warehouses dating from the 17th and 18th century.

One of Amsterdam’s oldest warehouses — built in 1617 — is at number 5. A national monument, “Het wijnpakhuis Malaga” (wine warehouse Malaga) now houses private apartments.

Oudezijds Kolk on the Map

• Show me Oudezijds Kolk on a Google Map.

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This post was last updated: May. 18, 2011    

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