The Jordaan: From Rugged Working Class To The Trendy Urban Professional

Most urban metropolises have a creative hub – a neighborhood, corner or few blocks – where the artists hang out. Such spots are often characterized by street art, graffiti on walls and windows, and sculptures made out of twisted metal, plastic and glass. They are labeled as eclectic, cool and off-the-edge, that offer artists a cheap canvas for creative expression. But in many instances, these areas can be isolated, only being graced by visitors from the “hipster clubs.” One doesn’t tend to see too many “non artists” in such places, such as the office goer, the woman with her kids, the baker and his crew, or the postman in the van.

Amsterdam’s canal belt – the four main arteries of Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht – simply followed a concentric pattern as they were dug out in the early 17th century to give the city room to grow into its Golden Age. It was primarily the houses of wealthy merchants and traders that sprung up these canals and today, this district as a whole is a UNESCO world heritage site. In the same period, the city was also expanding beyond the core ring of canals into a district where the workmen and artisans lived: The Jordaan.

Artisans’ workshops have given way to lofts and studios for many young urban professionals
Artisans’ workshops have given way to lofts and studios for many young urban professionals

No specific effort was made to design a street plan for this neighborhood and the area simply followed the pattern of existing drains and ditches. As a result, the Jordaan evolved to be a maze of short canals with narrow connecting streets, lacking the grandeur of the main canal ring. The Jordaan is far less imposing and exuberant, but more intimate, laid back and congenial. It is the working class neighborhood of Amsterdam, described in the city archives as the “Nieuwe Werck” (new work), in which artisans and craftsmen setup their workshops.

Until the late 20th century, the Jordaan remained quite a turbulent part of town and a powerful breeding ground for the worker’s and socialism movement. Many have died in riots that routinely dot the Jordaan’s history, the most significant event perhaps being in 1941: the first and only full on public protest by Amsterdam citizens against the persecution of Jews by the occupying German forces. There were plans to demolish the entire neighborhood after the second world war, but the need for housing for the working class prevented the city council from going ahead.

Residents wake up to the bells of the Westerkerk right across the Prinsengracht, marking the eastern flank of the Jordaan
Residents wake up to the bells of the Westerkerk right across the Prinsengracht, marking the eastern flank of the Jordaan

Today, the Jordaan is the domain of Amsterdam’s middle class and the young urban professional, quickly becoming a posh and extremely popular part of town. It is also home to Amsterdam’s several upcoming art galleries (such as Torch gallery), start ups and trendy restaurants. Once infamous for its radical left wing politics, today it is a calm oasis of peace, creativity and local immersion blending the 17th century canal ring overflow with Dutch modernism.

One of many independent art studios that dot the lanes of the Jordaan
One of many independent art studios that dot the lanes of the Jordaan
Johnny Jordaanplein: an outdoor hangout spot and children play area
Johnny Jordaanplein: an outdoor hangout spot and children play area

Where central Amsterdam is vibrant, energetic and bold, the Jordaan is quaint and hip. Photographically speaking, there are no major sights or grand ahas, but little details to explore. Cozy corners and charming alleys rather than grand facades and boulevards. Boutique designer stores and art studios versus world class museums. And, a very real and intimate view into Dutch millennial life over the tourist centric Dam square, Red Light District or 17th century wealth reflected in the canal ring.

A practical blend of historic and modern Dutch housing along Bloemgracht
A practical blend of historic and modern Dutch housing along Bloemgracht
Quaint and charming canal maze at the Jordaan
Quaint and charming canal maze at the Jordaan