The current Munttoren (Mint Tower) on Muntplein (Mint Square) dates from 1620. Although officially called Regulierstoren (Regulars Tower), most Amsterdammers call both the tower and the square simply De Munt (The Mint). Even though gold and silver ducats with the Amsterdam seal were only minted here for one year (from 1672 until 1673) during the French invasion, the name stuck.
The Mint Tower, now 41 m (134 ft) high, is a remnant of a city gate from 1480-1487, burned down in 1618. The city decided to repurpose the base of the one remaining tower, so they asked city architect Hendrick de Keyser to design a new tower. He created an octagonal brick layer topped by a wooden open spire with clock and carillon. The tower, the square and many streets in the area were named after a nearby former convent of the Regulars.
The convent of the Regulars (officially Canons Regular of St. Augustine) was located from 1394 to 1532 in the meadows outside of the city walls, where now Keizersgracht and Utrechtsestraat cross. It was officially called Convent of St. John the Evangelist at Nieuwer-Amstel, commonly known as the Regulars Convent. These monks lived by the rules of St. Augustine, a monk from Rome in 595, sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the Anglo-Saxons. The convent was destroyed by fire in 1532 and never rebuilt — the monks moved to a convent in the town of Heiloo, near Alkmaar to the north.
A map from 1560 by Jacob van Deventer still showed the convent ruins. After the 1578 Protestant Alteration the convent lots were expropriated and made into an inn and garden. In 1638 the first Hortus Medicus was created there. When the Keizersgracht was dug in 1668, the last remnants of the convent were removed. Many streets here were named after this former convent: Reguliersbreestraat, Reguliersgracht, Regulierssteeg, Reguliersdwarsstraat and Korte Reguliersdwarsstraat. Even the Rembrandtplein was originally called Reguliersplein (Regulars Square) before 1876.
The Regulierspoort (Regulars Gate), built between 1480 and 1487, was one of the three main gates in the medieval city wall. The gate building had two towers, with a gate house and passageway between them. After the first and second city expansions (planned in 1585), the wall was demolished here to make room for a glassworks (1613) and a guard house (1616). A fire destroyed the gate in 1618 and only part of the guard house and one of the towers remained. That western tower became the bottom part of the current one.
In the painting above — which depicts an older situation — there’s a watchtower (called Leeuwenburg) to the right of the Regulars Gate, on the corner of the Rokin. The 1618 fire in the glassworks destroyed most of the gate, the old guard house, this small tower and the houses in between.
The narrow wooden bridge (dated before 1544) in the painting was called Roode Brug (Red Bridge) because it was painted red. It was replaced around 1663 with the stone Doelensluis bridge towards Nieuwe Doelenstraat, replaced again in 1936 with the current one, designed by architect Piet Kramer. Stone bridges were traditionally called sluis (sluice) in Amsterdam — there never was a lock here.
After the fire the city decided to only rebuild the most western tower. On top of the remaining bottom part an octagonal part was added, with a wooden spire (clad in lead) with clocks and a carillon. A windvane on top, originally an ox (because of the oxen market which was on Kalverstraat), is now a rooster. The tower was finished in 1620 and restored in 1955. At the northeastern end of the tower a buttress, also a remnant of the original gate.
The original guard house was used as a guild hall until 1674. The city then leased it in 1675 to an inn, called Logement De Munt. In 1887 that was demolished and replaced with the current smaller building, designed by city architect Willem Springer in Neo-Renaissance style. There’s a small statue of a city guard above the entrance on the back. That building was used first by the Koninklijk Oudheidkundig Genootschap (KOG, Royal Antiquarian Society), these days it’s a shop.
In 1939 a pedestrian passage was created in the part of the new building which connects the tower to the Muntgebouw, designed by Piet Kramer. At that time the bridge which forms Muntplein was once again widened. A gable stone with the old Amsterdam seal was attached to the guard house wall near the underpass in 1940.
When the metro (subway) North-South Line was build, the Munttoren was given extra sturdy foundations (costing € 1,9 million) when tunnel digger Molly passed in August 2012 at 32 m (105 ft) depth, making a rather sharp curve here towards Rokin. A small drinking fountain from 1918, on the Kalverstraat side of the tower, was one of the first works of city sculptor Hildo Krop (1884-1970). Unfortunately it had to be filled with concrete because of constant misuse.
Muntplein (Mint Square)
Muntplein is actually a very wide bridge called Muntsluis, across the water connecting the Singel canal to the Amstel river. It started out in 1480 as a narrow bridge to the meadows outside the walls (Rembrandtplein was still meadows in 1585). The houses, built where once the burned down glassworks stood, were demolished in 1865 and 1877. The square has been restructured many times, buildings were demolished and replaced, the quays on Rokin and Amstel widened, the bridge renewed and replaced several times — but the water stills passes underneath.
This square was called Schapenplein (Sheep Square) until 1877, then Sophiaplein (Sophia Square, after Queen Sophia, wife of King Willem III). It was officially named Muntplein in 1917, but most Amsterdammers simply refer to both the square and the tower as De Munt (The Mint). It has always been a complicated and busy traffic artery for trams, cars, cyclists and pedestrians, connecting Kalverstraat, Rokin, Nieuwe Doelenstraat, Amstel, Reguliersbreestraat, Vijzelstraat and Singel. The city has made this square a part of the so-called Rode Loper (Red Carpet) in 2017 and has started to minimize car traffic in the streets around it.
The building at Muntplein 2-4, corner Rokin, is called De Nederlanden and dates from 1895. Designed by architect H.P. Berlage as an office building for an insurance company, it was changed by Berlage himself in 1911. Sculptures on the building (pigs and chicken in the doorway gable stones, on the façade Bacchus, Hercules and a woman calling out) are by Lambertus Zijl (1866-1947). Inside the building is a monumental stairway with mural paintings from 1911, restored in 2018. In 2016 the upper floors became apartments.
The building with the rounded corner at Muntplein 6, corner Kalverstraat, designed by architect J. Zegger, dates from 1923 and held offices and apartments. It was a cigar shop first, then Hoover Trading Co, then a photographer’s, now Bubble Tea. Dutch couturier Max Heymans (1918-1997) had a workshop on the first floor and lived on the second floor in 1940, until he went into hiding because of the persecution of Jews. The building is a muncipal monument.
The bronze statue of Fortuna (Lady Luck) by Hildo Krop, now located on the Amstel quay in front of Hotel De L’Europe, once stood on the bridge near the Munttoren. That sculpted base, with a snake and dolphins, almost hidden by the ugly stall, is where the statue originally stood from 1972 on (after being moved from its 1948 location on the Langebrug, when it was replaced by the Queen Wilhelmina on horseback statue).
How De Munt Got Its Name
In the 17th and 18th century Amsterdam had become a world center for precious metals. Around 1700 half of all Spanish American silver was traded here. During the so-called Disaster Year of 1672, France, England and the dioceses of Munster and Cologne, jealous of the Dutch prosperity and naval dominance, declared war on the Republic. The land and sea battles lasted for 17 months and brought about many political and economic changes.
French troops occupied much of the country. Utrecht (where coins were minted) had been overtaken and gold and silver could not be safely transported to the other minting towns of Dordrecht and Enkhuizen. In 1672 special war taxes on the rich were levied. They could be paid in money, but also in gold and silver items, which were stored in the Amsterdamse Wisselbank (on the ground floor of the Palace on the side of the current Paleisstraat).
As an emergency measure (to prevent coin shortage), Amsterdam began minting coins in the former guard house next to the tower, using the gold and silver stored in the Wisselbank. Around 1,44 million silver and gold ducats were minted here in one year. When the war moved to the south and the French invasion of Amsterdam was no longer a threat, minting in Amsterdam stopped in October 1673. An attempt by French King Louis Napoleon in 1806 to centralize the country’s mint in Amsterdam failed, as did a subsequent plan in 1839. But in just one year the name of the tower as Munt got to be so commonly used that it remained.
The Munttoren has one of the five carillons created by the Hemony brothers, famous bell casters: the others are in the towers of the Oude Kerk, Zuiderkerk, Westerkerk and in the belfry of the Royal Palace. The Hemony brothers succeeded in casting bells with precise notes, making it possible to use them as musical instruments. The carillon in the Munttoren now has 38 bells, 16 more than the original carillon. A bronze mechanical drum, created by Pieter Hemony in 1669, makes the bells chime every 15 minutes, and every half and whole hour the striking bells ring. Every Saturday afternoon at 14:00 city carillonneur Gideon Bodden plays the bells by hand.
This carillon was made in 1651 for the former Amsterdam Exchange by Hendrick de Keyser (once located at Rokin just south of Dam square), placed in that exchange’s tower in 1655. When that tower was removed in 1668 for an expansion of the Exchange, the bells were moved to the Munttoren. Six new heavy bells and some smaller ones were added to the original 22, bringing the total to 36 bells in 1668. The largest bell weighs almost 2,000 kg (4,400 lb).
In 1873 a new clock was placed and the baton keyboard was removed, added again during a restoration in 1959, when 11 corroded bells were replaced. The original bells are now in the Amsterdam Museum. Another restoration in 1993 replaced more bells and added some smaller ones.
Street Piano Performance by Arian Müller on Muntplein (May 2022)
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