Amsterdam: city scars

From just 30.000 residents in the 1500s to more than 900.000 in 2019, Amsterdam has expanded a great deal. This also means that some of the city’s historic buildings were demolished, while others still remain 400 years later. But exactly how have some of the areas in Amsterdam changed throughout the years?

Text and photos by Bart Jacobs

The Waterlooplein was once the beating heart of Amsterdam’s Jewish neighbourhood. In the 1600s, it was a thriving area with many artists living near the square and Rembrandt even painted some of his most famous works just around the corner. It was also the sight of the city’s biggest Jewish market. After the Second World War, a lot of houses were in disrepair and were demolished. Only a small number of iconic buildings, such as the Mozes and Aäronchurch we see in the picture, survived. This allowed the district to be developed into a modern city district. Wide roads and a large square were constructed, some of the canals in the area were converted into streets. 

Mozes and Aäronkerk (image by Stadsarchief Amsterdam).

Today, the Waterlooplein is dominated by the Amsterdam City Hall, while there are still market vendors selling their goods on the square. Despite the many changes that occurred in the neighbourhood, it’s still an area that has some of the characteristics it used to have in the 1600s. Some of the former Jewish synagogues has been converted into museums, while there are still people living in the 400-years old houses. Even though many of the historic buildings were destroyed, some places are still recognizable after all those years. 

Paleis voor Volksvlijt

Modelled after London’s Crystal Palace, the Paleis voor Volksvlijt (Palace of Popular Diligence) opened in 1864. This was during the ‘Golden Age of Amsterdam’, in which the railway station and Rijksmuseum were built as well. The building was used for exhibitions and concerts, the organ was famed for its sound. There were also shops and latereven houses located at the palace. But pretty soon, it turned out that the building was not as profitable as when it opened. A number of opera performances attracted less audience than before, so it was decided to cut back on the orchestra and the organ. After that, the palace lost its cultural significance.

Hoge Sluis – Paleis voor Volksvlijt (image by Stadsarchief Amsterdam).

In 1929 Amsterdam was in a state of shock when the palace burned down. Even though it was built out of glass and steel, the entire building was destroyed. It remained a gaping hole in the city landscape, until the Dutch National Bank had its office built there. Nowadays, many citizens of Amsterdam want to rebuild the palace, and there has even been petitions to build a new palace on the same spot. 


Nowadays, it’s one of the busiest streets of Amsterdam and the location of Hogeschool van Amsterdam, but in the 1900s there was a railway station in the Wibautstraat. The Weesperpoort station offered passengers a direct connection to Utrecht, while there was also a tram service to nearby cities. Between 1843 and 1939 the station was in service, but in 1889 a new track was built between the Central station and the newly built Amstel station.

Weesperplein (image by Stadsarchief Amsterdam).

The Amstel station was, and still is, iconic for its large murals. In addition to the paintings, there are also several statues to be found, making it almost a museum. In the 1980s, high towers were built, by Amsterdam standards. This turned the area into a business centre where multinational Philips, among others, has its headquarters. Nowadays, the Amstel station is being renovated, during which the murals and other details of the building are being restored. Thanks to the renovation, the nearly one hundred year old station can be used for a number of years.

Amstel station 

As the Amstel station was very close to the Weesperpoort station, many trains used the newer station. The lay-out of the Weesperpoort station was outdated, being a head-end station meant that trains had to be turned around to leave the station. Another difficult point was that the tracks were on street level, which caused many delays for the people that wanted to cross the busy tracks. This caused the Weesperpoort station to close down eventually.

Amstel station (image by Stadsarchief Amsterdam).

After the Second World War, the area was redeveloped, resulting in large, modern buildings. Our school, the University of Applied Sciences Amsterdam, is now located in many of these buildings. The train tracks have been removed, instead there is now asphalt on which cars drive. Today, there are still trains on the Wibautstraat, only now, they run underground as a metro.