Long before the arrival of tourist buses and large trucks, Amsterdam was already taking measures to keep unnecessary traffic out of the city center. In the seventeenth century, the canal of canals was built, surrounded by a new city wall. This city wall had 5 large gates and 2 small passages. Near each gate was a square as an entrance to the city. Leidseplein, Haarlemmerplein and Weesperplein were given the function of ‘wagenplein’.
Carved from a map of Amsterdam made by Gerrit de Broen in 1724. In the center is the spacious Leidseplein, surrounded by the narrow streets of the city center [klik om de hele kaart te zien]. | Source: Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010035000005).
These carriage spaces were a kind of Park & Ride before la lettre. Large cars and (post)buses did not enter the city’s narrow streets and had to park here. There were stables for the horses. Wheelwrights, inns and forges were also found in the square; as a blacksmith you could do good business here.
Leidsepoort and the theater on Leidseplein. Front right a sled. | Print: Cornelis de Kruyff (ca. 1825), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010097011644).
The farmers and merchants who entered the city through the Leidsepoort therefore parked their horse and cart on the Leidseplein to conduct their business in the city on foot. Freight that was brought in on large wagons had to be transferred to small wagons. In fact, nothing new under the sun!
Visitors who entered the city by bus or ferry had to continue on foot as well. An alternative was to switch to the so-called toe sleigh or tow carriage: a small coach on a sled with only one horse in front, which the coachman walked alongside. In dry weather, a cloth with grease (the grease cloth) was used to pull the wagon forward. This mode of transport became very popular in the eighteenth century when the city council began to levy a tax on wheeled carriages.
Leidsepoort seen from Leidsebosje to Leidseplein. | Drawing: Reinier Vinkeles (1769), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010001000220).
From 1774 Leidseplein acquired a cultural function: the city theater was established there. The site provided sufficient space for this. This theater burned down in 1892. The current city theater (by architects J. Springer and AL van Gendt) dates from 1894.
Earlier, in 1863, the seventeenth-century Leidsepoort had been demolished, and the city walls were also demolished. Thus, the function of the carriage space for this space disappeared. As a traffic hub, Leidseplein retained its importance well into the twentieth century.
Haarlemmerplein with Haarlemmerpoort, front right, are wheelwrights at work. | Drawing: Reinier Vinkeles (1766), image bank Amsterdam city archive (010001000228).
Like the Leidseplein, the gate to the Haarlemmerplein was located on an important arterial road, in this case across the Spaarndammerdijk to Haarlem. This square was laid out in 1617 as part of Derde Uitleg, an urban expansion where the first part of the canal belt was created. Here, too, large wagons had to unload their cargo and the stagecoaches were unloaded. The city council wanted to prevent such large monsters from entering the city. Livestock stables, inns and taverns could of course also be found here. The blacksmith shop ‘Het Zwarte Paard’ was located on the corner of the square and the Vinkenstraat until well into the nineteenth century.
Haarlemmerplein in 1899, still in full use as a carriage yard. To the right a large number of hired carriages and to the left the horse tram. | Photo: Amsterdam City Archives image bank (OSIM00003004423).
Unlike Leidseplein, Haarlemmerplein continued to function as a carriage square until the beginning of the twentieth century. For example, there was a large number of rental cars for ‘mourning and fidelity’. The Amsterdam Omnibus Maatschappij horse tram had a parking facility nearby on the Brouwersgracht.
Nieuwe Willemspoort, Haarlemmerplein, seen from the north-east, during the accession of William II on 27 November 1840. | Print: WC Magnenat (1840), Amsterdam city archive (010097004433) image bank.
The current Haarlemmerpoort was not part of the historic stronghold around the canal belt, but was built in 1840. The official name was Willemspoort because King Willem II drove into the city through this gate a day before his homage. In the beginning, the gate was still used as a toll booth, where the city could collect city taxes. In 1866, municipal excise duties were abolished, causing the gate to lose its main function.
Weesperplein near Nieuwe Achtergracht. | Drawing: Herman Misset (1908), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010094001767).
Weesperplein was the third carriage square created during the expansion of the canal belt. Thanks to the Weesperstraat, the exit road from the Weesperplein, the city was not only connected to Weesp, but Amsterdam also got a quick connection with Utrecht after the reclamation of the Watergraafsmeer in 1629. As at Leidse- and Haarlemmerplein, the same activity was housed here. The spatial layout has changed so radically over the years that little more than a name remains of this square.
Heritage of the week
Each week, the Heritage of the Week section focuses on a special archaeological find, site, object, monumental building or historical site in the city. Via the website amsterdam.nl/erfgoed, Twitter @arv020 and Facebook Monuments and Archeology the cultural heritage experts in Monuments and Archeology share the city’s heritage with Amsterdammers and other interested parties.
Banner photo: Haarlemmerplein in 1779. | Drawing: Hendrik Keun, KOG collection, Amsterdam City Archives image bank (KOG-AA-2-24-425).