The Muiderpoort is an old city gate from 1770, once part of Amsterdam’s defense system, on Alexanderplein (Alexander Square) near Artis Zoo. It has bridges on either side of it: one bridge across the Plantage Muidergracht (towards Artis Zoo) and one bridge across the Singelgracht (towards the KIT, Museum of the Tropics). This is actually the second gate with the name Muiderpoort, the first one (from 1663) collapsed in 1769 because of issues with the foundation. Before Amsterdam’s Fourth Expansion (1655-1663), this was where the former village Oetewaal was located. The gate is a national monument.
Design of Amsterdam’s Southeastern Gates
All major city gates on the southeastern side of town had a similar design: a city moat on the inner side of the wall for transporting goods, a 5 m (16.4 ft) high city wall (an earthen wall clad with stone on the outside), a main gate building on top of it, followed by two wooden draw bridges over the outer city moat. This outer moat was the Singelgracht, 60 m (196 ft) wide, with a hamei (a simpler gate, often with a portcullis or other iron fence) on the outside perimeter.
The Utrecht, Weesp and Muiden Gates by design all looked very much alike, in order to not give potential enemies any clues as to where they were exactly outside the city.
First Muiderpoort (1663-1769)
The first Muiderpoort was built in 1663 as part of Amsterdam’s Fourth Expansion (1657-1663). This first Muiderpoort collapsed in 1769 because it slid off of its foundation in the soggy terrain, sinking 4.5 m (14.7 ft). This could have been a case of construction fraud or simply caused by shortcuts taken to speed up the building. Earthen dikes and defense walls like this needed around 10 years to settle in this type of wet soil — and Amsterdam was probably in too much of a hurry to finish the defense wall project.
Second Muiderpoort (1770-now)
After the demolition of the first Muiderpoort 1769, the second (current) Muiderpoort was built in its place, designed by city master builder Cornelis Rauws (1736-1772) in Louis XVI style, with sculptures by Anthonie Ziesenis (1731-1801). On the outer side is the new Amsterdam city seal with three Andreas-crosses, on the city side the old city seal with a cog ship. Architect Rauws has a plaque on the city side of the gate, commemorating his heroic action during the great fire which destroyed the Amsterdamse Schouwburg (Amsterdam Municipal Theater) on May 11, 1772. He saved multiple people, but died himself. The bell tower has a bronze bell from 1664 cast by the famous Hemony brothers.
This gate was located between the inner and outer moat of the old city wall, the original Lijnbaansgracht (then simply called Baangracht) and the Singelgracht. Of all city gates which provided access to the city in the 17th and 18th century this is the only remaining one. St. Anthony’s Gate from the 15th century (repurposed in the 16th century to be the Waag or Weigh House on Nieuwmarkt square) is the only other old city gate still standing.
The Fate of the Gate
Initially the city gates had a primary military and toll booth function — they closed every night and in the daytime only opened after payment of a fee. In the 19th century the gates and bastions lost their defensive function, but they were not demolished because they were also used to collect city excises. The Muiderpoort survived because it was properly built — the Utrechtsepoort and Weesperpoort had been done too hastily, became derelict and were demolished.
Once all traffic went through this outer and main gate, but in 1898 it was considered too narrow and the outer fence-gate from 1770 was removed. It was stored — in 1938 it was placed at the entrance of the Flevopark, where it can still be seen today. In 1903 the original bridge was replaced by a new one built next to the main gate – traffic now went around the gate, not through it.
The gate lost its tax function in 1866 when municipal excises were abandoned. From 1914 until 1924 the gate became a police station. In 1945 it became the workshop of sculptor Jaap Kaas (1898-1972), author of many sculptures in Artis Zoo. In 1963 it housed the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation (IBFD), since 2002 the Nederlandse Orde van Belastingadviseurs (Dutch Order of Tax Consultants). In 2019 the city sold the Muiderpoort to Stadsherstel Amsterdam (City Restoration Amsterdam). In 2021 the clock was restored.
Muiderbos (Muiden Wood)
The Muiderbos (Muiden Wood, more a small public park than an actual wood) was planted in the 17th century, just outside of the Muiderpoort, more or less where the Tropenmuseum is now. The initiative for the park came from French King Louis Napoleon, who governed the Netherlands at that time (1806-1810) for his brother, Emperor Napoleon.
In 1876 construction of the Dapperbuurt (Dapper neighborhood) began, necessitating a better road through the Muiderbos. In 1884 a new horse-drawn tramway to Linnaeusstraat marked the beginning of the end for the park, as it gradually became smaller and smaller to facilitate the development. The later Oosterpark, constructed partly on the grounds of the old Oosterbegraafplaats (Eastern Cemetery), meant the Muiderbos became redundant. In 1895 the city placed an iron fence around the Muiderbos and its last remnants disappeared when the KIT (Tropeninstituut, Colonial Institute) was finished between 1910 and 1926.
Along the Oetewalerweg were many inns and taverns by the mid 18th century. They were popular cheap drinking places (no beer tax outside the city limits) as well as providing lodging for travelers who could not enter the city after the gates closed at night.
A bit further north along the Singelgracht (current Mauritskade where it meets the Pieter Vlamingstraat) was the popular tavern and leisure garden Roomtuintjes (Cream Gardens). It got its name because cows from cattle merchants were stalled and milked here at night before being sold the next day — the cream was sold to the tavern’s guests. The complex was demolished between 1880 and 1884 for the construction of the Dapperbuurt (Dapper neighborhood).
Napoleon at the Muiderpoort in 1811
In October 1811 Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte entered the city through this gate. Together with his 19-year old second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria (1791-1847) and an escort of many soldiers, he visited the Netherlands to show the people their new boss. At the end of the procession (which took a good 45 minutes to pass) he made hundreds of shantily clad Spanish prisoners-of-war march along, to nip any possibile unrest in the bud.
Holland had declared the Batavian Republic in 1795 — effectively a client state of France — which ended when French King Louis Napoleon was put on the Dutch throne in 1806 by his brother, Emperor Napoleon. Louis abdicated in 1810 because of arguments with his brother about how to govern the Netherlands. Emperor Napoleon then decided to annex the country into the French Empire and declared Amsterdam the third capital in his reign, after Paris and Rome. Napoleon stayed in Amsterdam for two weeks.
Cossacks at the Muiderpoort in 1813
After Napoleon’s army had been defeated by the Coalition armies of Russia, Austria, Prussia and Sweden in the Battle of Leipzig (October 1813), his hold on the European continent was broken. During the French reign, Amsterdam’s economy had been bled dry to fund Napoleon’s constant wars. On November 14, 1813, a regiment of Bashcir Cossacks (from southern Russia) reached Wijhe, at the river IJssel in the east of the country. At this news Amsterdam crowds burned down the hated French customs houses and many high ranking French officials fled.
A provisional council formed and asked Russian general Alexander von Benckendorff to sent troops ahead. Thus Major Marklay was sent behind enemy lines with a few hundred Bashcir Cossacks — they arrived at the Muiderpoort on November 24, to help liberate Amsterdam from the last French troops. The French were led to believe there were 10 times as many Cossacks and fled, fearing their ruthless reputation.
The Cossacks were a fierce and rowdy bunch on small feisty horses, with exotic colorful attire, their weapons and clothes mostly loot taken on their pillaging sprees. The Amsterdam population came in drones to the Muiderbos to gaze at these exotic warriors. Here they were reasonably well-behaved and welcomed, even if their officers demanded lots of jenever (Dutch gin) and ladies.
The provisional council asked them to proceed through town from Leidsepoort towards Dam square, where they ousted the last French from the palace, after which there was a proclamation of independence. After November 24 Cossack numbers grew to an estimated 1200-2000 — they protected Amsterdam until the French had given up: Diemen on November 25, Halfweg and Utrecht on November 28th, Muiden on December 1st, 1813. Later the Cossacks pursued the fleeing French southbound on to Paris.
On December 2nd, 1813, the Prince of Orange (later King William I, 1772-1843) accepted sovereignty on Dam square, escorted by Cossacks and flanked by General Von Benckendorff.
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