Architecture in the canal district


When wandering through the canaldistrict of Amsterdam, you’re passing by centuries of history. You can read this history by looking more closely at the typical Amsterdam façades. Each façade is different, and tells it’s own story. However, there are ways to find out how old a building is, just by looking at the façade and its gable. By becoming aware of the different shapes the Amsterdam houses come in, your walk through the city can became a journey through time.

The wooden houses (app. 1200-1550)

Wooden houses in Amsterdam are rare. In fact, there are only two left. One of these is located at the Begijnhof, not far away from the Museum of the Canals. This house was built in app. 1475! The other wooden house is located at the Zeedijk. Amsterdam used to be full of these wooden houses, but in 1669 local government decided to ban these types of construction, because of the fire hazards that they posed.


Houten huis (Begijnhof 34)

S-shaped ornamental gable (app. 1570-1600)

Façades with S-shaped ornaments are also rare in Amsterdam. These façades were built according to the style of the early Dutch Renaissance. You can find such a façade at the Singel 423, very close to the Museum of the Canals. The year stone tells us it as built in 1606. The façade is remarkable; round S-shapes decorate the façade. The arches above the window are also rounded, and on top of the building tower six decorative orbs.


Rolornamenten (Singel 423)

Stepped gable (app. 1600-1655)

Until approximately 1665, the city of Amsterdam was crowded with stepped gable façades, alternating with wooden houses. As the name suggests, the gable is characterized by its steps. These steps often start already on the first floor of the building, which makes the buildings seem relatively low. On the Herengracht, a few doors down from the Museum of the Canals, you can have a look at one of these stepped gables.


Trapgevel (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 14)

Spout façades (app. 1620-1720)

Spout gables are common in the streets of Amsterdam. However, not at the Herengracht. The reason for this is because the spout gables were oftentimes used for warehouses. The Herengracht was built as a stately residential area, so mostly residential houses were built. In order to find spout gables in old warehouses, you can go to the Prinsengracht, or, for example, the island Uilenburg. You can recognize the old warehouses from their triangular shaped spout façade and semi-circular windows, that often have wooden shutters. The illustration shows a spout façade used for a residential building, which is quite rare.

Tuitgevel (Zandhoek 10)

Neck gables (app. 1640-1770)

The first neck gable was designed by Phillip Vingboons, the same architect that designed the building that houses the Museum of the Canals. The building he designed is located at the Herengracht 168. The neck gable is recognized by two 90 degrees angles, that create a ‘neck’, which is often decorated with all sorts of depictions of for example fruit or flowers.

Bell gables (app. 1660-1790) are very similar to neck gables, however the 90 degrees angles are rounded. Seventeenth century neck and bell gables are usually a bit lower than their eighteenth century versions.


Halsgevel (Herengracht 168)

Elevated crown cornice (18th century)

Wandering through the canal district of Amsterdam, you will find mostly elevated crown cornices from the eighteenth century. These cornices are straight, with an elevated section on top which houses a hatchway. This hatchway was built in for easier access to the lifting beam. The cornices form the 18th century are richly embellished.


Verhoogde kroonlijst (Nieuwe Herengracht 99)

Straight cornices (19th century)


In the nineteenth century, the façades of Amsterdam became more and more sober. Although straight cornices were built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most of them were built during the nineteenth century. Starting around 1790, no more spout, stepped, neck or bell gables were built. The sober cornices do not house any sculptures. These straight, sober cornices were used up until approximately 1920. All of these types of façades are not unique to Amsterdam. In fact, most of these styles are visible all around the Netherlands. For example, the straight cornice illustrated represents a house in ‘s Hertogenbosch.


Lijstgevel (Verwersstraat 35, ’s Hertogenbosch)


Monday: 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Tus – Sun: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Closed: December 25th, January 1st and
April 27th


Herengracht 386, 1016 CJ, Amsterdam

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