Amsterdam’s Kingdom of Heaven
The Hemelrijk (Kingdom of Heaven) is a smaller neighbourhood, between Singel and Hekelveld, named after an overpopulated slum area there, before it was sanitized in the 1920s. Between the Engelsesteeg and the Hekelveld there were two alleys, ironically called Groot Hemelrijk and Klein Hemelrijk (Large and Small Kingdom of Heaven). The area has been completely renovated and upgraded, all traces of the former slum shame removed.
Explanation of the Street Names
- (Korte) Nieuwendijk — Amsterdammers call this part of the Nieuwendijk the Short New Dike.
- Gouwenaarssteeg (Gouwenaar’s Alley) — Probably named after realtor Willem Jac. Gouwenaar, who lived at the corner of the Stromarkt around 1600. A Gouwenaar was also a narrow type of ship.
- Engelsesteeg (English Alley)— Already named thus in the 16th century, probably because it had an inn frequented by English skippers and merchants, or maybe because the first fled English Protestants lived there.
- Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal — New Side In-Front-Of-The-Wall.
- Hekelveld (Hackle Field or Hell Field) — Although everyone assumes that the name is derived from hekel (hackle) related to the flax industry, historian Ter Gouw in his book from 1856 (explaining Amsterdam street names), makes a strong case for hekel meaning “male evil spirit” or “hell”, so more related to the Dutch “een hekel hebben aan” (having a strong dislike).
- Spuistraat (Spew Street) — Water drainage street, former canal filled-in in 1867.
- Smaksteeg (Smack Alley) — Name derived from a gable stone or sign depicting a smack (a type of seaworthy ship). The Smak was also the name of an inn that was located here. On the corner with the Nieuwendijk is a gable stone called “Alle zegen komt van boven” (All Blessings Come From Above).
- Korte Korsjespoortsteeg (Short Korsjes Gate Alley) — Named after a bridge across the Singel, which took its name from wood merchant Corsgen Jacobsz, who had an orchard there in the 15th century. Thus people called that bridge the Korsjespoort (Korsjes Gate), even though the real City Gate of that name was located near the current Blauwburgwal.
- Stromarkt (Straw Market) — Named after the 16th and 17th century straw market here. Until the 16th century it was also known as Kuipmarkt (Barrel Market).
- Jeroenensteeg (Jeroenen Alley) — Probably named after the former St. Jeroenen tower, one of the smaller towers on the 15th century city wall, which the street led to.
- Kattengat (Cat Flap) — When it was still a small angled canal connecting the water of the Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal (now Spuistraat) and the water of the Singel, it used to have a very narrow entrance and exit, hence the name. The houses on the north side of the Kattengat were demolished between 1930 and 1941. One branch of the filled-in water became the Teerketelsteeg, the part exiting on the Singel became the Koggestraat.
- Koggestraat (Cog Street) — Named after a type of cargo ship. Once a canal running from the Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal (now Spuistraat) to the Singel. Filled-in around 1860 and renamed Koggestraat.
- Teerketelsteeg (Tar Kettle Alley) — This alley once ended on the water that is now the Koggestraat, it ran behind a house called The Tar Kettle on the current Spuistraat. In the 16th century they cooked and sold tar there.
- Singel (City Moat) — From the Latin verb “cingere”, meaning to encircle, girdle.
- Prins Hendrikkade (Prince Henry’s Quay) — Named after prince Willem Frederik Hendrik (1820-1879). Before 1879 this was called Haringpakkerij (Herring Packers), after a herring business there.
- Martelaarsgracht (Martyr’s Canal) — Because of a house that once stood here with a sign showing a martyr (probably St. Sebastian). Filled-in in 1884.
- Ossenspooksteeg (Oxen Ghost Alley) — According to historian Ter Gouw, a bastardized form of Osjespoortsteeg (Oxen Gate Alley). Early in the 17th century there was a brewery “The Little Ox” and this alley ran at the side of the brewery. The alley is still there, but now closed off.
- Groot Hemelrijk (Big Kingdom of Heaven) — Demolished in 1925-1927. The name probably derived from a sign showing Kingdom of Heaven, described in an old document from 1712, stating that a certain Willem Clermont lived on the Spuistraat (then Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal) between the Korsjespoortsteeg and the Kattengat “where the Kingdom of Heaven is hung”. Amsterdam did not have street numbering then, so gable stones and shop signs were used as indicators.
- Klein Hemelrijk (Small Kingdom of Heaven) — The alley Klein Hemelrijk was called Vagevuur (Purgatory) until the 17th century. It was demolished in 1925-1928.
- Zwarte Bijlsteeg (Black Axe Alley) — Part of the former slums, demolished in 1928.
Then & Now
When in 1375 the Nieuwendijk was built, it enclosed large swampy areas from previous floodings. That land was used by potteries, flax workers and cheap slums for the day labourers. In the 15th century there were 3 big breweries in this area, now gone. The Kattengat water with its branches determined the form of the alleys and buildings, many warehouses were built right on the water.
With the arrival of many Lutherian refugees, the old Lutherian Church on the Spui became too small. From 1668 until 1671 the new Round Lutherian Church was built here, between the Jeroenensteeg and the Ossenspooksteeg. A fire in 1822 destroyed the church, but it was rebuilt. In 1993 there was another fire that destroyed the top end. The building has become part of the hotel — in use for events — with an underground passage below the Kattengat.
In the 19th century there were still 94 very small dwellings in the slums, the bigger alleys were connected between them by nameless “corridors” (gangen). In 1890 the Dominicus Church (they never finished the tower) was built on the Teerketelsteeg, corner with the Korte Korstjespoortsteeg.
In 1917 the first part of the slums was demolished for the construction of an office building. After the building of the Arbeiderspers (Worker’s Press) in 1931, the last remnants of the Hemelrijk slums were removed. The Sonesta Hotel (now Renaissance Hotel) in 1975 cleaned up the last bits up to the Kattengat.
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