Amsterdam 2013.The ‘dancing houses’ are just a few of the many canal houses or grachtenhuizen that tower above the waterways of Amsterdam. Venture farther out into the city and into the area known as the grachtengordel, Amsterdam’s canal district, an area of the city that turns 400 this year, and in 2010 was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Construction of the grachtengordel was a massive undertaking and consisted of a half-circle of three concentric canals, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, each lined with canal houses, and expanding out from the moat-like waterway called Singel, part of the city’s early defenses. The houses, built for the wealthy bankers and merchants, sometimes did double duty, serving as both living and work space, with storage facilities in the basements or attics (notice the hooks above for hauling goods in through the windows, still used today for hauling furniture up to, or out of, the building). Others were used mainly as warehouses (pakhuizen), and quite a few, were strictly residential properties, urban palaces, for the upper classmen and their families.
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