The current Spui square was originally a body of water until it was filled in around 1882. Many interesting buildings can be seen there and it also has the entrance to the Begijnhof, an enclosed courtyard dating from the early 14th century. Until 1425 this was the southern border of Amsterdam, below it the polder with farms. The water levels in Amsterdam and in the southern polder were quite different, so sluices were created to manage the flow. Spui literally means sluice or drain (think spew).
Farmer’s Grief & Oxen Sluice
Amsterdam kept its water level more or less equal (Amsterdams Peil) to the water of the IJ which still had an open connection to the North Sea, but the polder water level was different. Where the waterway went from Singel to Spui, there was a sluice called Boerenverdriet (Farmer’s Grief), called thus because the farmers — arriving in the city with their produce — had to put up with a lot of wating before their boats could finally pass the narrow sluice one by one.
Where the Spui exited into the Rokin there was a second sluice called Osjessluis (Oxen Sluice), near the Kalverstraat. This was a floodgate (a sluice which can close on one side, to regulate the water level) with a high stone bridge above it. On top of the bridge stood a tax house for the oxen market.
The Osjesbrug (Oxen Bridge) above the Osjessluis was named after the oxen market which took place there, from Kalverstraat (Calf Street) to Muntplein. In 1958, when the sewer system around the Spui was renewed, remnants of the bridge walls surfaced. They were destroyed for the new sewers, but they still lie beneath the pavement of the Spui there.
To the Beach by Tram
From 1904 until 1957 there was an electric tram service between the Spui and Haarlem and the Zandvoort beach resort by the North Sea, nicknamed the Frog because of the wagon’s green colour. The end point of the line was on the Spui until 1914. From 1914 until 1957 the end point was near the Spuistraat.
The Current Square
The Spui was redesigned in 1996 to be nearly car-free. The southern part of the square has famous bars like grand-café Luxembourg and café Hoppe (from 1670). In front of the Atheneum bookstore the statue Het Lieverdje from 1960, where from 1964 the Provo movement staged so-called happenings. Before the COVID lockdowns there was a weekly book market on Fridays and (from March to December) an art market on Sundays.
- At the corner of Spui and Singel the Old Lutherian Church from 1632
- At Spui 21, between Handboogstraat and Voetboogstraat, the Maagdenhuis (Virgins House) dating from 1783-1787, now the administrative centre of the University of Amsterdam (UvA)
- Right across, the building with the gate to the Begijnhof
- Helios building from 1900, Spui 15-19
- Former music store Hampe from 1842 at number 11, now Hampe-Prinz
- Shop building Mercurius, corner Kalverstraat 152 and Spui 7, from around 1885
- At the eastern end of the Spui, corner with Rokin, artists’ society and art gallery Arti et Amicitiae
- Centrally on the Spui the square shop building at number 10, from 1891-1892
The Downside of Maintenance
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