Prinseneiland (Princes Island) is the smallest of Amsterdam’s three Western Islands, created between 1610 and 1624. Originally called Middeneiland (Middle Island), it was probably named after the first three princes of the House of Orange — Willem I, Maurits and Frederik Hendrik — who were important during the Eighty Year War against Spain (1568-1648). There was also an important house called De Drie Prinsen here in the 17th century. The island is surrounded by 4 canals: Prinseneilandsgracht, Realengracht, Bickersgracht and Eilandsgracht.
After 10 years of legal issues because of land speculation, finally in 1623 lots were being sold on Prinseneiland, initially meant for storage of mostly wood and tar. There were at the time some 900 warehouses in Amsterdam — more than 100 were on Prinseneiland and most dated from the second half of the 17th century. Prinseneiland was also one of the designated areas in town used as a wood storage for building ships and houses. In the 20th century most warehouses were transformed into apartments, making the island an attractive residential area.
Breitner on Prinseneiland
Around 1881 Dutch painter and photographer George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) quite frequently went on drawing expeditions with Vincent van Gogh in Den Haag (The Hague). Like Van Gogh he saw himself as “painter of the people”. Although they went on expeditions together, Breitner and Van Gogh despised each other’s painting styles.
Breitner had two artist studios built on Prinseneiland to his own specifications by contractor C.J. Maks in 1898 in Eclectic style — he used the larger one himself. The other studio was used by painter Kees Maks (1876-1967), son of the contractor (his father, contractor C.J. Maks, had also built a large part of the Rijksmuseum). After returning from Paris in 1886, Breitner lived at many Amsterdam adresses. He worked in this studio at Prinseneiland 24B until he left in 1914. Kees Maks continued to work there after Breitner left. The studios are a national monument.
Best known for his (somewhat dark toned) paintings of city life, Breitner was also quite fascinated by city expansions and demolitions. He frequently used his photographs as a kind of sketchbook or notebook, to serve as the basis for the paintings he finished later in his studio. This was mostly born out of necessity, because painting in the streets was forbidden without previous special permission from the mayor. Breitner was a member of the artists association Arti et Amicitiae on Rokin.
Streets & Bridges on Prinseneiland
There are only two streets on Prinseneiland:
- Prinseneiland – same name as the island itself, runs around the perimeter.
- Galgenstraat – Gallows Street, in the middle of the island.
Prinseneiland has three bridges:
- Sloterdijkerbrug – Sloterdijk Bridge, from Nieuwe Teertuinen to Prinseneiland.
- Drieharingenbrug – Three Herring Bridge, from Prinseneiland to Realeneiland.
- Galgenbrug – Gallows Bridge, from Prinseneiland to Bickerseiland.
Galgenstraat (Gallows Street)
Before the creation of the Westerdoksdijk and Westerdokseiland, from this street there was a clear view across the IJ of the Gallows Field (Galgenveld) in the northern part of town, where corpses of criminals were left hanging in the open air (after being executed on Dam square), from around 1409 until 1795. It was located on a small headland called Volewijck, more or less where the A’DAM Tower is now.
In 1662 the city attempted to rename the street to Prinsendwarsstraat (Princes Traverse Street), but that never stuck, so the old name was kept. The Galgenstraat ends on the Galgenbrug across the Bickersgracht. The once open view towards the Volewijck in Amsterdam-Noord has completely been blocked by the large new blocks on Bickerseiland.
Galgenbrug (Gallows Bridge)
The Galgenbrug across the Bickersgracht (Bickers Canal) is a fixed bridge from 1923, from Prinseneiland to Bickerseiland. There were earlier bridges here between 1625 and 1737. In 1881 a new wooden version was built, which lasted for 40 years. It was replaced by a fixed iron bridge in 1923. The bridge leads to Kleine Bickersstraat on Bickerseiland.
This double wooden draw bridge across Prinseneilandsgracht, between Nieuwe Teertuinen and Prinseneiland, has been a municipal monument since 1995. Earlier versions of this bridge existed between 1625 and 1737. In 1862 the bridge needed restoration, and in 1881 it was renewed. In 1952 the bridge was replaced with a new version replica — the counterweight was replaced in 1974 and 1983.
When the neighborhood was renovated in 2005, the bridge was badly damaged by the heavy traffic, but it was renovated and restored in 2006. The name of the bridge probably came from the old village of Sloterdijk, which — before1900 — could be seen from here (the view now blocked by the elevated railroad track). It is the only double wooden drawbridge in the neighborhood still in its original state.
The Drieharingenbrug (Three Herring Bridge) is a beautiful white double wooden drawbridge, only for pedestrians and cyclists, rebuilt in 1983 like the original from 1625. It spans Realengracht, from Prinseneiland to Realeneiland. There had been a wooden drawbridge here since 1625 — in 1859 that drawbridge was replaced by a pontoon bridge, which was soon nicknamed Kippenbrug (Chicken Bridge). That one was replaced by fixed bridge in 1894 — low across the water, with steep sides — but the name Kippenbrug stuck.
In 1922 it was replaced again by a normal steel bridge. Finally in 1983 it was rebuilt to match the original draw bridge. The Drieharingenbrug was named after a brandy distillery which was torn down in the 1700s. On Vierwindendwarsstraat 1 (on Realeneiland) you can see a gable stone on a house from the 18th century (a national monument) which gave the bridge its name. To the southeast of the bridge is the studio and exposition space of painter Ans Markus.
The Eilandsgracht (Island Canal) runs to the southwest of Prinseneiland, between the island and the city. Originally it ran along both Prinseneiland and Bickerseiland, but in 1872 it was partly filled in. In 1918 the railroad tracks were doubled on the viaduct, built half on the Haarlemmer Houttuinen and half on the Eilandsgracht, leaving very little water there. In 1928 the stretch of the canal along Bickerseiland was filled in completely.
At Prinseneiland 40 (the side facing Bickerseiland) you can find a lovely palm garden, one of the public gardens in this area created by the inhabitants, this one on a former scrapyard terrain. A nice green quiet spot with cactuses, palms and figs in the middle of a 17th century decor. Despite the colder Dutch weather, the palms flower and spread.
Since 1995 Dutch painter Ans Markus, who paints in realist and magic realist style, lives at Prinseneiland 49, in a renovated double warehouse from 1629. The house is decorated with three modern gable stones. She also has an expo and studio at Prinseneiland 14.
The Insulinde warehouse from 1629 was one of the first warehouses on Prinseneiland. The gable stone with the motorboat points to Mark 4:14: “The sower sows the word”, referring to Wiebe Tuinstra, partner of Ans Markus, who was a publisher before he retired. The text reads (translated from Dutch): “Let many prosper”. The stones were created by sculptor Hans ’t Mannetje (1944-2016), who restored many gable stones in the city. Website Ans Markus: https://ansmarkus.nl/en/
Warehouses & Warehouse Companies (Vemen)
Already in the 17th century people stopped building traditional warehouses, which were combined with a home for the owner on the ground floor. Most warehouses were built by rich citizens as an investment — even merchants only used a part of each themselves, renting out a part or the entire building. They left the supervision and rent collection to a trustee, called a “factor” (“doer” in Latin).
Middle men searched for storage space, then rented parts of warehouses, which they then sublet under their own name. The old weigh house carriers, organised in a guild, were famed as trustees because of their very tight regulations. From that guild the “vemen” emerged — singular “veem” — initially meaning “warehouse company”. Later the word was also used for the groups of warehouses themselves.
These vemen or warehouse companies could be the owners of the warehouses, but initially they mostly rented them from other owners. Being a partner in one of these warehouse companies was so lucrative that new members paid ever bigger entrance fees in order to be able to partake (up to ƒ 10,000, $ 126,500 in today’s money).
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