Amsterdam's beloved Quartier Latin! Guide to what to see and do, shops, restaurants and bars...
The Jordaan - From humble beginnings in the 1600’s to 18th Century slum to 19th Century riots, today this gentrified old village successfully combines the traditional with the new. Hip restaurants, modern boutiques and specialist art galleries sit next to old Jordaanese ‘eetcafes’, bars and traditional shops. And then of course, there are the Jordaan’s unmissable open-air markets!
In the heart of the Jordaan - Amsterdam
There is much discussion in Amsterdam concerning which area exactly constitutes the Jordaan. Without getting drawn into the debate, our understanding is that the Jordaan is the area to west of the Prinsengracht and bordered by the Haarlemmer Houttuinen (to the North), the Leidsegracht and the Singelgracht. If the layout of the Jordaan seems a little ‘higgledy-piggledy’, this is because rather than using any sort of town planning when it was decided to create the area in the 1600s, the Jordaan was simply built along the existing ditches and pathways.
Perhaps that’s what gives the Jordaan its unique charm today. Taking a leisurely stroll through its streets and along its canals is the best way to explore this picturesque district. There will be plenty of occasion to stop for refreshments in charming cafes along the way and plenty of opportunity to do a spot of shopping - the Jordaan is full of independent shops and boutiques. Take a virtual tour of the Jordaan and visit our featured shops - Interactive Illustrated Map or download our printable Amsterdam shopping map, featuring the Jordaan - Amsterdam Shopping Map...
Egelantiersgracht in Summer, Jordaan - Amsterdam
Extract from a plaque depicting a typical old Jordaanese ale house - No. 35 Tichelstraat, de Jordaan
Historic origins of the Jordaan
During the 1600s, Amsterdam truly came into its own as one of the world’s most successful cities. Thousands of people from all over Europe sought work and a new life in the Amsterdam metropolis, possibly attracted by its growing reputation for tolerance. The city expanded rapidly. First, came the enlargement of the Amsterdam canal belt, with the addition of the exclusive Keizersgracht built in a horseshoe-shape around the Herengracht. This was followed by the less exclusive though nevertheless imposing Prinsengracht, which in turn surrounds the Keizersgracht.
Meanwhile, where to put the work force? Slums had formed on the periphery of the city gates and were becoming a problem. Something needed to be done and an area was selected for development to house the city’s workers and immigrants. This area, immediately to the west of the canal belt, became known as the Jordaan – with the Prinsengracht representing the physical and psychological barrier between the well to do canal belt and the hard working but less wealthy Jordaanese.
One of the Jordaan’s most famous residents was Rembrandt, who moved to the Rozengracht in 1658 to avail of its cheap rents following his fall from financial grace.
Applause for the carillon player - Bugle player saluting the Westerkerk tower following an impromptu Carillon - Bugle duet!
The Westerkerk - a Jordaanese perspective
The famous Westerkerk (built by Hendrick de Keyser) with its inspirational Westertor (West Spire) dominates the Jordaan (although strictly speaking the Church is not actually in the Jordaan). Its chimes and its (47 bell) carillon are an integral part of Jordaanese life. Every fifteen minutes, the carillon chimes out a little tune to mark the passing of the quarter hour, accompanied by bell ringing every hour and half hour, and this 24 hours a day, seven days a week! Every six months or so - a new tune is composed and the main criteria for the composer, so we are told, is that it must be abstract and therefore unmemorable so as not to drive the local Jordaanese mad!
Every Tuesday usually between 12.00 and 13.00, the carillon in the Westerkerk is put through its paces. Apparently there are three professional carillon musicians in the Netherlands who take it in turns to give this weekly recital which can be heard throughout the Jordaan. Expect to hear everything from Danny Boy to Yellow Submarine but also Roll Out the Barrel; I did it My Way and Lili Marlene. It makes a great musical accompaniment to your stroll around the Jordaan. Look out for the music man in his boat who occasionally positions himself in the canal outside the Anne Frank house and proceeds to converse (musically) with the carillon.
The Noorderkerk and Noorderkerk Concerts
While visiting the Noordermarkt, it is worth taking time to explore the Noorderkerk. While Amsterdam’s Westerkerk was built for the wealthy of the canal belt, the Calvinist Noorderkerk was built for the poorer Jordaan. Completed in 1620, it was designed by the renowned architect and sculptor, Hendrick de Keyser, who also designed the Westerkerk. It is one of the first churches in the world to be purpose built and designed for Calvinist use. Its pulpit is located in the centre of the church, and the church itself has a simple elegance, with spacious interior and excellent acoustics, making it a popular location for concerts. Concerts are held at the Noorderkerk throughout the year and very often on Saturday afternoon’s while the organic farmer’s market bustles outside. The entrance fee is very reasonable. View the agenda for details of upcoming concerts on the Noorderkerk Concerts website.
Enjoying the ambiance and the cafes of the Jordaan’s Noordermarkt on a non-market day!
The Jordaan hosts many open air markets. Every Monday morning, there is market on the Westerstraat and a Flea Market twice weekly on the Noordermarkt Square. On Saturdays, there is a great general market on the Lindengracht and an wonderful organic farmers market at the Noordermarkt. The charming Noordermarkt square is located in the heart of the Jordaan district, surrounded by cafés and bars. For more information, view our feature on Amsterdam’s markets
Johnny Jordaan and Tante Leen levenslieden singers, Amsterdam
Folk songs, the ‘levenslied’ and the Annual Jordaan Festival
Folk songs, ballads and sentimental singing have always been part of the Jordaan way of life. The songs are known as levenslieden which means songs about life and generally tend to be ballads about the hardships of living, sung by local folk heroes.
The immortal Johnny Jordaan, Tante Leen and Johnny Meyer, whose statues can be found on the Elandsgracht, are probably the best known with Johnny Jordaan one of the most famous of the Jordaan genre with his songs about life in the Jordaan. While still a boy, he lost his eye in a fight with his cousin, who also became the famous Dutch folk singer Willy Alberti.
The sentimental ballad culture is alive and well in the Jordaan today. Levende music can still be heard from some of the old brown cafes in the Jordaan, for example on the Westerstraat. You can sometimes still hear singing on a Saturday afternoon but you’ll need to know the Dutch lyrics to join in. The best known sessions take place at weekends after dark at De Twee Zwaantjes, Café Bolle Jan and of course Café de Nol.
The present day culmination of the Jordaanese song is the Jordaan festival which takes place every year in September, usually around the third weekend. It is a vibrant street festival of song, dance and general festivity and takes place at venues throughout the Jordaan, including lots of big open air stage events. Get a taste of what to expect from the (Dutch) official website Jordaanfestival
Hofjes - Huiszittenweduwenhof (or Karthuizerhof) built by Daniel Stalpaert in 1650 – Karthuizerstraat, de Jordaan
The Jordaan is famous for its hidden Hofjes, part of the many almshouses built in the area over the years. The Hofjes (which literally translated means ‘little courtyards’) which were built by the rich to accommodate the poor. Many originate from the 1600’s. They tend to be hidden away in the most unexpected places but when you happen to chance upon one, it is a bit like discovering a secret garden. Two of the many fine examples in the Jordaan are the Cleas Claesz hofje (Egelantiersstraat 50) and the charming Karthuizerhof (on the Karthuizerstraat).
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