Amsterdam is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ because it has so many canals and bridges. Amsterdam has more than one hundred kilometers of canals in Amsterdam, about 90 islands and 1500 bridges. The three main canals Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht, dug in the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age, form a concentric belt around the city, known as the grachtengordel. Alongside the main canals are 1550 monumental buildings.
In the early part of the 17th century, with immigration rising, a comprehensive plan was put together, calling for four main, concentric half-circles of canals with their ends resting on the IJ Bay. Known as the “grachtengordel” three of the canals are mostly for residential development and a fourth, outer canal for purposes of defense and water management.
The historic urban ensemble of the canal district of Amsterdam was a project for a new ‘port city’ built at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. It comprises a network of canals to the west and south of the historic old town and the medieval port that encircled the old town and was accompanied by the repositioning inland of the city’s fortified boundaries, the Singelgracht. This was a long-term programme that involved extending the city by draining the swampland, using a system of canals in concentric arcs and filling in the intermediate spaces. These spaces allowed the development of a homogeneous urban ensemble including gabled houses and numerous monuments. This urban extension was the largest and most homogeneous of its time. It was a model of large-scale town planning, and served as a reference throughout the world until the 19th century.