The Western Islands of Amsterdam (Westelijke Eilanden) are one of my favourite places in the city.
Very centrally located and yet incredibly peaceful, stepping on this little archipelago formed by the Bickerseiland, Prinseneiland and Realeneiland feels like traveling back in time.
Connected with each other by little wooden bridges and populated by beautiful old buildings and all kind of boats (there is even a submarine to be seen in the area!), the islands appear as a little world of their own.
Their history begins in the early 17th century, when they were artificially created in order to support the expansion of Amsterdam`s harbor in the Western part of the city. The Western Islands thus served as a base for warehouses, shipyards and various small businesses and were bustling with activity.
Unlike on the Eastern Islands of Amsterdam (Oostelijke Eilanden), the activities on the Western Islands had nothing to do with the trade from the Dutch East Indies. They were actually dedicated to the trade with the Middle East (Levant) and the Baltic Sea.
The warehouses on the Western Islands stored – among others – grains, tobacco, wine, salt, herring, anchovies and tar (used to preserve ship walls, sailing and fishing nets). The names of the streets on the islands remind us today of these goods.
In the 19th century, when ships became too big for the harbour area in the West, all the activities performed on the Western Island for more than 200 years were eventually transferred to the developing Eastern Docklands.
The area fell into decay during the first half of the 20th century, but things radically changed in the meantime. The warehouses underwent restoration and were turned into desirable apartment buildings. Their old façades were preserved and are still to be seen today.
In spite of all transformations, the Western Islands managed to keep their special character and, just as the nearby Jordaan district, they have always been the preferred residency for the artistic and creative souls of the city.