Amsterdam’s canals are a major part of the city’s charm – and the canal belt area has even been nominated for a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Beginning Tuesday, visitors to the city will have another way to discover the city’s iconic canals: the Rijksmuseum is opening an exhibition of paintings, prints and drawings which show the spectacular expansion of 17th-century Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s Canal Belt: The Expansion of Amsterdam in the Golden Age includes a number of maps from the Rijksmuseum’s own collection which chart the concentric expansion. However, central to the exhibition are six views by Gerrit Berckheyde depicting the changes along the Gouden Bocht (or Golden Bend) of the Herengracht Canal – the richest part of the new city.
Amsterdam had long been a city like any other, but trade at the end of the 16th century was growing in a spectacular fashion and more and more people wanted to live in the city. By around 1672 Amsterdam had a population of more than 200,000. There was also constant demand for space to accommodate the docks and countless warehouses. The city had already expanded for a few years starting in 1585, but between 1610 and 1620 Amsterdam doubled in size. The final city expansion was formally codified in 1662, when the three existing canals were extended, giving Amsterdam’s canal belt its famous half-moon shape.