Jordaan: Amsterdam’s bohemian quarter
Located west of Amsterdam’s city center the Jordaan is an atmospheric, bohemian quarter with a labyrinth of narrow streets and picturesque canals. It is peppered with small shops and galleries, restaurants and brown cafes.
The Jordaan is also the home of the famous Westerkerk, and the possibly more famous Anne Frank House.
Its boundaries consist of the Prinsengracht to the east, the Lijnbaansgracht to the west, Brouwersgracht to the north and Leidsegracht to the south.
The area was developed in the first half of the 17th century when the city needed to expand. The project, started in 1612, was called Het Nieuwe Werck (The New Work). Before then the area had consisted of boggy meadowland and was home to many farms.
You’ll notice that the streets and canals meet Prinsengracht at an odd angle. That is because the street plan follows the layout of the old paths and drainage ditches.
In the 19th century, six of the Jordaan’s canals were filled in.
Where did the name ‘Jordaan’ come from?
There are several theories as to why ‘The New Work’ came to be known as the Jordaan district. One is that the name Jordaan, which includes many streets and canals named after floers, was derived from the French word ‘jardin’ (garden).
‘Het nieuwe Werck’ was home to menial workers, while richer people lived
A more likely explanation is that in the early 18th century people had started referring, jokingly, to the Prinsengracht as the river Jordan. ‘Het Nieuwe Werck’ was home to poor, menial workers while the well-to-do lived in the older, more upscale parts of the city — the ‘promised land of milk and honey’ across the canal. They in turn started referring to the district across the Prinsengracht as the Jordaan.
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From poorest district to Yuppie heaven
During the 19th century the Jordaan was the most densely populated district of Amsterdam, and home to the poorest people. An excess of births and the demolition of countless dilapidated buildings from the previous century caused a severe housing shortage here.
As a result, entire families ended up living in basements and attics. Many homes were split up so that more than one family could live there.
In many places extremely narrow alleys led to inner courtyards where illegally-built structures housed the poorest of the poor.
By the end of the 20th century the Jordaan had developed a lively culture. The district was known for its music, the cameraderie and solidarity of the locals, as well as a wealth of small speciality shops and galleries.
In the 1980’s and early 90’s aggressive city renewal types cleared away many centuries-old houses. Granted, these houses were ripe for demolition, but it is inexcusable that they were replaced with apartment blocks that are out of character with the rest of the neighborhood.
The renovation projects forced many of the Jordanezen — inhabitants of the Jordaan district — to move elsewhere. The higher rents of the new homes — and the fact that the apartments were still relatively small — were among the reasons many did not return.
Still, there is plenty of plenty authentic stuff to see in the Jordaan, and this most-sung-about neighborhood of the Netherlands remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in Amsterdam.
No Public Transport
The entire Jordaan district has no public transportation. For several years a mini-bus service called Stop and Go (previously Opstapper) traversed Prinsengracht, stopping on demand at just about any spot, but as of January 1, 2011 the service disappeared after its subsidy was cut.
Trams and buses do run through Rozengracht, a busy thoroughfare which cuts the Jordaan roughly in half, but stops are only located at Prinsengracht (Westermarkt) and Lijnbaansgracht (Marnixstraat).
You’ll enjoy criss-crossing Jordaan on foot, though. If you need a break simply pop into one of the countless cafés and soak up the local atmosphere.
Map of Jordaan, Amsterdam
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