Around the year 1000, a hamlet of fishermen and farmers established at the marshy mouth of the Amstel river. The little farms on both sides of the river were eventually connected through a dam. Amsterdam was about to develop around this “centre”.
The name of Amsterdam comes from the construction of a dam on Amstel river. Towards the middle of the 13th century, some crop farms were laying on both sides of the river, mutually connected through a path. On one side of the river, the path started approximately in nowadays Nieuwendijk area, while on the other bank that was around Warmoesstraat. It represents the oldest connection in this very modest settlement.
The surroundings consisted of moors, the soil was 80% water and when heavy raining occurred, wide areas were regularly flooded. That is why, for safety reasons, the farms were built on hillocks. But the ground was so frail, that the wooden establishments were slowly but surely collapsing, thus those hillocks had to be heightened every five or ten years.
Why were people coming to live here?
That was the consequence of the fact that, around year 1000, the population was slowly but surely growing. Obviously, there was a necessity of more food and so of more farmland. A necessity to win more land by digging up the soil. That took place at the order of Bishop of Utrecht, the landlord of an extensive area. During that time the first reclaims of land developed near the Amstel. They have slowly expanded and reached the IJ.
At the cross-point of the IJ and the Amstel, a farming settlement established, supervised by the Lords of Amstel. Ditches were dug in order to discharge excess water and separate the different parts of more or less dry farmland. On the street pattern of today Jordan it can still be seen how a number of drainage ditches were used.
The Amstel and the IJ rivers looked different than they do now. The IJ was, between 800 and 1000, overgrown with reeds and peat moss. Starting with 11th century, due to peat decreasing and floods, it became filled with water and very broad again. And there are signs that the old Amstel consisted of two branches. The reclaims taking place between 1200 and 1250 must have merged the two branches of the river into one powerful stream. Along the Amstel and the IJ, dikes were raised to keep the water away.
On both sides of the Amstel, on hillocks, simple farmhouses were standing, wal to wal and leaning on one another. On the floor made of compact ground, “carpets” made of braided willows were laying and there was also a fireplace made of bricks. The walls were made of braided willow and hazel branches, the roofs were of reed and provided with a smokehole. Excavations show that besides farmers, in the meantime also fishermen and a few craftsmen lived there, such as weavers, tanners or blacksmiths.
At the expense of the Lords of Amstel, to the middle of the 13th century (1250), a dam was finally built, and so the different settlements on both sides of the Amstel became interconnected. The top of the dam was gradually widened, making it suitable for a sort of centre. This is the poor start of Amsterdam.
(Source: “De canon van Amsterdam”, translation from Dutch made by me. Photo: the Internet)