Westerkerk and Westertoren, Amsterdam

Westerkerk & Westertoren

The Wester­kerk (Western Church), right at the edge of the Jordaan neigh­bor­hood, is a Protestant church on the Wester­markt, official address Prinsen­gracht 279. Designed by Hendrick de Keyser in Renaissance style in the form of two inter­connected Greek crosses, it was built between 1620 and 1631, commissioned by the Amsterdam city council. It was finished by the architect’s son Pieter de Keyser (1595-1676). The church is 58 m (190 ft) long and 29 m (95 ft) wide. It can be visited all year round, except on Sundays.

Westerkerk, Amsterdam, seen from the corner of Bloemgracht and Prinsengracht

Wester­kerk, seen from the corner of Bloem­gracht and Prinsen­gracht (July 2022).

After the 1930s the church became more derelict over time. In 1981 it closed to fix the most urgent issues. The church was extensively restored from 1984 until 1991.

Architect Hendrick de Keyser

Architect and sculptor Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621) designed quite a few Dutch historic buildings: in Amsterdam the Rasp­huis Gate (Rasp­huis­poort), the East India House (Oost-Indisch Huis), the top part of the Mount Albans Tower (Montel­baans­toren), the third Haarlem Gate (Derde Haar­lemmer­poort), the old Amsterdam Exchange (Beurs van Hendrick de Keyser), the top of the Mint Tower (Munt­toren), the Northern Church (Noorder­kerk), House Bartolotti and the House with the Heads (Huis met de Hoofden).

Detail of a portrait of Amsterdam city architect Hendrick de Keyser

Detail of a portrait of Hendrick de Keyser, after a painting by J.H. Maschaupt (Rijks­museum).

He was appointed Amsterdam city architect in 1595. He lies buried in the Zuider­kerk which he designed. Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser, an association for the conser­vation of histo­rical buildings, established in 1918, was named after him.


The church was in use in 1631, but the tower was only finished in 1638. Amsterdam’s soft, residing soil made it impossible to build the tower completely in stone, so it was decided to do the lower part in brick, the first top half in sand­stone, the upper part in wood covered with lead. It differed from Hendrick’s original plans: in 1620 the city decided to place the tower on the Prinsen­gracht side instead of on the side of the Keizers­gracht. Son Pieter also changed the original octa­gonal tower into a square more classicist one. The Wester­kerk was the city’s show­piece, hence all city seals and the Imperial crown on top of the tower.

Top of the Westertoren, Amsterdam, seen from Prinsengracht

Top of the Wester­toren, seen from Prinsen­gracht (July 2022).

The Wester­toren is 85 m high (278 ft) and is the highest church tower in the inner city. The upper part with the emperor’s crown dates from 1637 and holds a carillon (set of bells) from 1658, made by famous bronze bell casters, the Hemony brothers. Amsterdam has four Hemony carillons: in the towers of the Oude Kerk (Old Church), the Zuider­kerk (Southern Church), the Munt­toren (Mint Tower) and in the Wester­toren. Anne Frank mentioned several times in her diary how the sound of the chimes soothed her.

Lorry with new vases for the top of the Westertoren, Amsterdam, August 1950

Rozengracht in August 1950, new vases are delivered for the top of the Westertoren (AP, Stads­archief Amsterdam).

In 1906 the imperial crown had been painted gold yellow, but during a restoration in 2006 the original blue color was restored. During the French period in 1795 church and state were separated: the church building thus became property of the Dutch Reformed Church, but the tower stayed property of the Amsterdam munici­pality. From 1909 until 1938 the Wester­toren was the fixed reference point for Amsterdam Time (Amster­damse Tijd), then the official time in the Netherlands.

Southern side of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam

The southern side of the Wester­kerk (June 2020).

The Wester in Songs

Left of the Wester­kerk entry is a plaque in memory of Willy Alberti (1926-1985, real name Carel Verbrugge), “our Neapolitan singer”. Amsterdammers in the Jordaan lovingly call the tower Ouwe Wester (Old Wester) — it features in many a famous Jordaan song. The well known song “At the Base of the Old Wester” (Aan de voet van die oude Wester) in the video is performed by two famous Amsterdam singers — Johnny Jordaan (Johannes Hendricus van Musscher, 1924-1989) and Willy Alberti — during the soccer World Champion­ship 1974 in Germany, for the Dutch national soccer team and coach Rinus Michels.

Climbing the Tower

One of the best panoramas of central Amsterdam used to be from the tower during the summer months, after climbing the spiralled stair­way (only with guide). The viewing platform at 40 m (131 ft) high offers a great view. Unfortunately, the Wester­toren is currently closed, under­going a long term resto­ration (the tower is maintained by the city every 20 years).

The Sound of the Bells

Imported new inhabitants of the Jordaan area regu­larly complain to the city about the bells of the Wester­kerk, which toll — even during the night time — on the half and whole hour. The carillon sounds every 15 minutes. And it has done this for the last 400 years.

Like Anne Frank, many old Jordaan inhabitants find the regular sound of the bells soothing and reassuring. But the growing number of expats and imports may change this cherished tradition around yet. Let’s hope they don’t win. Each Tuesday from noon until 1 P.M. there’s a carillon concert on the tower’s 50 bronze bells, played by hand, often with popular and sometimes modern songs.

Main organ from 1686 of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam, built by Roelof Barentszn Duyschot

Main organ from 1686 of the Wester­kerk, built by Roelof Barentszn Duyschot, rebuilt 1989-1992 (August 2022).

Inside the Church

The strict geometric design and high open space of the church fits the Calvinist sobriety well. Inside the church is a big organ from 1686, the shutters painted by Flemish painter Gerard de Lairesse (1640-1711), repre­senting scenes from the Bible: King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant and the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon. The organ was restored to its original state in 1992.

The pulpit and carved inner portals date from 1630. In 1830 the original copper chandeliers were sold, so the ones in the church are now replicas. They have the Amsterdam seal on them, which also shows above the main entrance, held by two putti.

Putti with the Amsterdam seal inside the Westerkerk, Amsterdam

Putti with the Amsterdam seal, below the organ (August 2022).

Buried in the Westerkerk

  • Jan Bicker (1591-1653), ship­builder and merchant (Bickers Island was named after him).
  • Joan Blaeu (1596-1673), printer, publisher and famous carto­grapher.
  • Govert Flinck (1615-1660), painter.
  • Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). At the end of his life he lived at nearby Rozen­gracht 184. When he died he was so poor that he was buried in an unmarked rented grave, so the exact location is unknown. A commemo­rative plaque was placed inside the church later in 1906.
  • Titus van Rijn (1641-1668), Rembrandt’s son.
  • Hendrickje Stoffels (1626-1663), Rembrandt’s maid and later lover.
  • Thomas Hope (1704-1779), merchant and banker, his wife Margaretha Marcelis (1705-1758) and their son John Hope (1737-1790).
  • Lucas Bols (1652-1719), famous distiller. In 2015 a new grave stone was placed when the company he founded had their 440th anniversary.
Two more pictures of the Westerkerk organ from 1686, Amsterdam

Two more pictures of the Wester­kerk organ from 1686 (August 2022).


The Wester­markt (Western Market) is the space around the church (not to be confused with the market on Wester­straat, which is sometimes wrongly called Wester­markt). Although it doesn’t these days, this square had various markets over time. From 1669 there was a large vegetable market on both sides of the Prinsen­gracht (between Egelan­tiers­gracht and Looiers­gracht), which continued on the Wester­markt. There was a bread market twice a week here as well. In 1755 a part of the square had a market for umbrellas, parasols and fans. Later there was also a basket market three times a week here, but only for the members of the basket makers guild.

Drunkards at the market near Westerkerk, Amsterdam, painting by Peter Paul Joseph Noël from 1821

Two drunkards at the market near the Wester­kerk, painting by Peter Paul Joseph Noël from 1821 (Rijks­museum).

From 1616 until 1631 this square between Raad­huis­straat and Rozen­gracht was called Keizers­markt (Emperor’s Market). From 1619 the side on the Keizers­gracht was the location of the Wester­hal, a weigh house and meat market, demolished in 1857. In 1908 there was a small brick police station in front of the church on the southern side.

Statue of Anne Frank

On the Wester­markt, in front of the church, is a bronze statue of Anne Frank (created by Mari Andriessen). It was placed there in 1977, in the presence of Anne’s father Otto Frank, who had survived Auschwitz. The family’s safe house is on the other side of the church, at Prinsen­gracht 263. Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.

Statue of Anne Frank on Westermarkt, Amsterdam

Statue of Anne Frank by Mari Andriessen on Wester­markt (June 2020).

Homo Monument

The Homo-monument, designed by Karin Daan, was placed next to the Wester­kerk in 1987 on the side of the Keizers­gracht. It consists of 3 pink granite triangles with 10 m (33 ft) long sides, together forming a large triangle with 36 m (118 ft) long sides. Homo­sexual men had been forced to wear pink triangles on their clothes in the concentration camps during the Second World War — in the 1960s the symbol was adopted as a badge of honor by the gay rights movement. The triangle at street level has a line from a poem by Jacob Israël de Haan: “Such an immense longing for friendship”. The original pink granite slabs had been too thin and fractured easily. They were replaced in 2003 by thicker ones.

Homo-monument, Amsterdam, seen from Keizersgracht towards Westermarkt

Homo-monument seen from Keizers­gracht towards Wester­markt. The building at Wester­markt 2 is an office building from 1921, origi­nally designed for a wine merchant by architect G. van Arkel together with H.J. Breman (February 2023).

Westerkerk and Westermarkt, Amsterdam, viewed from Keizersgracht side

Westerkerk and Westermarkt, viewed from the Keizers­gracht side (February 2023).

Westertoren Maintenance

From January 2023 until around half 2024 the Wester­toren will be covered in scaffolding for extensive maintenance, the first time since 2001. Both the outside and the inside of the tower will be tackled, as well as the bells and carillion.

Westertoren, Amsterdam, covered in scaffolding for maintenance

Westertoren covered in scaffolding for maintenance (February 2023).

Website Westerkerk: https://www.westerkerk.nl/english

Website Westertoren: https://westertorenamsterdam.nl/?lang=en

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