Dutch History; The oldest Tow Canal and the Amsterdamse Poort.

The Haarlemmertrekvaart is a canal between Amsterdam and Haarlem. It was dug in 1631, making it the oldest tow-canal in Holland. Travel on tow canals was historically done by barges which were towed by animals and sometimes men, on a path along the canal’s edge known as a towpath.


Map of the old canal route.
© https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Haarlemmerliede.gif

The primary waterway between Amsterdam and Haarlem was the IJ, a bay of the Zuiderzee. The land route was over the meandering dyke along this bay. In 1631 construction began and the canal was dug in a virtually straight line to guarantee the shortest route.

The first barge ‘sailed’ in 1632 between Amsterdam and Haarlem, and could carry 30 passengers. Because of the sluice gate between the Haarlem Lake and the IJ, the canal was not continuous. The passengers needed to disembark and change boats at this point, which was halfway, and where the town of Halfweg formed. Commercial freight was not allowed to use the canal, and a complicated tax system on water transport kept the barge system a stable means of passenger transport for centuries. The success of the Haarlemmertrekvaart led to the extension of the canal from Haarlem to Leiden by means of the Leidsevaart in 1657. When the Haarlem Lake became a polder in 1852, the former sluice gate became a steam-driven watermill, which is now a museum.


The Haarlem Gate in Amsterdam at the end of the route. © Minke Wagenaar

A railway parallel to the canal was built in 1839 which rendered passenger transport on the Haarlemmertrekvaart obsolete. While there is no longer any shipping on the canal, it is still being used for water management.

Amsterdamse Poort



Amsterdamse Poort © Siebe Baarda

The Amsterdamse Poort is an old city gate of Haarlem.  It is located at the end of the old route from Amsterdam to Haarlem and the only gate left from the original twelve city gates.

Old drawing of gate © Guusbosman at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2455139

It was created in 1355. Until the 17th century, it was the city gate used for traffic by land eastwards towards Spaarnwoudeover the Laeghe weg (now Oude Weg).

This gate, for those travelling by land, was called the Spaarnwouderpoort. With the new canal dug in 1631 and its towpath, the trip was so short, it became much more popular since it was now possible to travel back and forth to Amsterdam on the same day. Thus the name of the gate changed to Amsterdamse Poort.

The gate in the 19th Century. © http://dwarseman.blogspot.com/2014/01/de-amsterdamse-poort-in-haarlem.html

In 1865 the Haarlem government wanted to demolish the gate. A petition to pull down the gate was requested, as the gate was in a bad state of repair and was heeding the construction of a new bridge on the location just in front of the gate. However, the Haarlem government was denied their plans due to lack of funds.

The old gate in 1905. © http://dwarseman.blogspot.com/2014/01/de-amsterdamse-poort-in-haarlem.html

In 1867 the Papentoren, a tower in Haarlem that stored ammunition and explosives, was demolished. A room in the upper chamber of the Amsterdamse Poort was suited for that and the ammunition and explosives were stored. The Haarlem government decided since the gate has a new purpose and it didn’t need demolition. In 1869 the bridge in front of the gate was finally reconstructed and in 1874 most of the ammunition was taken outside the city. Here you can see where all the former locations of the defence towers and gates which used to stand around Haarlem.  

In the 1960s the gate was declared a national monument.


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