Temporary exhibition: Waterkracht

This exhibition focuses on the water in Amsterdam’s canals. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the quality of the canal water has gradually improved. Today, the canal water is even teeming with underwater life. Various bodies are working together to keep Amsterdam’s water clean. How did the quality of the water improve? How is the water being managed? And what will happen to Amsterdam if the sea level rises? In Waterkracht we tell interesting facts about the canal water along with photographic works by Gosse Bouma.



The canals then and now

In the Middle Ages, the water in Amsterdam was clean, so people ate fish and brewed beer from it. As the city began to grow in the sixteenth century, the water soon became dirtier. Because of the lack of sewers, the people of Amsterdam had little choice but to discharge their waste into the canals. Attempts to refresh the canal water with sluices came to nothing. The air in the city was almost unbearable and Amsterdam was nicknamed ‘the beautiful woman with the stinking breath’. It wasn’t until the Oranjesluizen and the Zeeburg pumping station were built at the end of the nineteenth century that the canals were kept properly clean. From 1906, when the modern sewage system was built, the quality of the canal water gradually improved even more. 


Today, the canal water is of good quality, which means it houses many plants and fish. The Waterschap Amstel, Gooi en Vecht, Waternet, and the city council are working together to keep the water clean. There is now also a lot of life on the canal water. While they were originally built mainly for commercial traffic, they’re much more than that today. Everything that happens on the water – from boat tours to events – is part and parcel of Amsterdam’s identity. 

Gosse Bouma

Gosse Bouma is a photographer and filmmaker with a passion for street photography. Bouma’s photographs show the serenity of Amsterdam in the early morning. These images are in stark contrast to what life on the canals used to be like when the canals were very dirty. What is unique about Bouma’s photography is that some of the photos look as if they are a hundred years old, until you start paying attention to the details. Bouma was a finalist in the prestigious two-year Hasselblad Masters awards in 2021.


Open from Tuesday to Sunday: 10:00 to 17:00.

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


Herengracht 386, 1016 CJ, Amsterdam

+31 (0)20 42 11 656