Essential Architecture-  Amsterdam



Hendrick de Keyser


in Amsterdam's Jordaan district, at the bank of the Prinsengracht canal.








Protestant Church
The spire is the highest church tower in Amsterdam, at 85 meters (279 feet). The crown topping the spire is the Emperor's Crown of Maximilian I. The church bells were made by the brothers Hemony.

Rembrandt van Rijn was buried in the Westerkerk on October 8, 1669. The exact location of the grave is unknown, but presumed to be somewhere along the northern wall. Rembrandt's lover Hendrickje Stoffels is also buried here, and his son Titus van Rijn may also be buried here. Other painters buried in the Westerkerk are Nicolaes Berchem, Gillis d'Hondecoeter, Melchior d'Hondecoeter and Govert Flinck. The church organ is decorated with doors painted by Gerard de Lairesse.

The Westerkerk is located close to the Achterhuis (now Anne Frank House) where diarist Anne Frank, her family and others hid from Nazi persecution for two years during World War II. The Westerkerk is mentioned frequently in her diary - its clock tower could be seen from the attic of the Achterhuis and Anne Frank described the chiming of the clock as a source of comfort. A memorial statue of Frank is located outside the church.

Near the Westerkerk is the Homomonument, a memorial for men and women persecuted for their homosexuality.

On March 10, 1969 Queen Beatrix (then Princess Beatrix) married Prince Claus in the Westerkerk.

There is also a church called Westerkerk in other Dutch towns, including Leeuwarden, Enkhuizen, Amersfoort, Bunschoten, Ermelo and Capelle aan den IJssel.


Westerkerk (1620/31)

The necessity to undertake the construction of additional churches was the inevitable result of the 1613 urban expansion project. In 1620, therefore, a decision was made to build two churches, the Noorderkerk and the Westerkerk. The Westerkerk was planned as a large church catering for the religious needs of the inhabitants of the northern part of the ring of canals. A smaller church, the Noorderkerk, was designed for church-goers in the Jordaan area, a far less prestigious neighbourhood just outside the ring of canals. On September 9, 1620 the foundation stone for the Westerkerk was laid.

The tower of the Westerkerk
rising high above
the surrounding buildings

In many respects the Westerkerk, designed by Hendrick de Keyser, resembles the Zuiderkerk, built by the same architect twenty years before. However, the overall design of the Westerkerk is much more monumental. After Hendrick’s death, on May 15, 1621, his son Pieter succeeded him as city architect. In that capacity he supervised a large part of the construction process. On the occasion of Whitsun 1631 the church officially opened its gates. At that point in time it was the largest church in the world ever built for the Protestant service, a position that was taken over by Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral only a few decades later. The groundplan is very similar to the groundplan of the Zuiderkerk: a rectangular space consisting of six bays. The elevation shows the basic set-up of a basilica: a tall nave and two much lower aisles, allowing for clerestories and an abundance of daylight. Because of this arrangement there was plenty of space for two tall transepts letting in even more light. On the outside the transepts are articulated by top gables crowned by triangular frontons. Hendrick de Keyser’s original design included truncated top gables similar to the Noorderkerk. Finally, however, the top gables of the transepts were modified. The tower also underwent some adjustments.

Reconstruction of Hendrick de Keyser’s original design (without spire)
by H. Zantkuyl

The Westerkerk is a close alliance of traditional medieval elements (basilica scheme; tall gable tops; buttresses; wooden barrel vaults) and contemporary Renaissance features (well-balanced groundplan; well worked out classical ornaments such as frontons, pilasters, vases and volutes). Some of the more illustrative examples of De Keyser’s use of Renaissance elements are incorporated in the buttresses which form part of the south wall. The Ionic pillars and rudimentary entablatures with vase-like structures on top, as well as the tryglyphs do not form a structural unity in keeping with the rules of classical architecture proper. De Keyser belongs to the transition from Renaissance architecture - with its loose and flamboyant use of classical ornaments - to the austerity of Dutch Classicism. Note the juxtaposition of the Ionic pillars of the exterior and the Doric pillars inside the building.

The choir (facing east) One of the gable tops

The Westerkerk was planned to cater for the religious needs of the inhabitants of the northern section of the ring of canals and was built on a site adjacent to the Jordaan area. The Jordaan, one of the most colourful and popular of Amsterdam neighbourhoods, soon developed a special relationship with the tower of the Westerkerk (completed in 1638). The ‘Old Wester Tower’, is the subject of the lyrics of many popular songs to the point where more or less human characteristics became associated with this familiar building.

The Westerkerk and the Jordaan,
a residential area
in the immediate
vicinity of the church
Willy Alberti

Today the church caters for a flourishing Protestant community. On March 10, 1969 Queen Beatrix (then Princess Beatrix) married Prince Claus in the Westerkerk.


The effect created by the spacious interior of the building is a pleasant surprise. The Dutch Calvinistic Protestants strongly advocated an austere and unadorned church interior. This ideological starting point was the driving force which resulted in the well-balanced geometrical arrangement of the basic parts of the building.

Doric pillars and cornices
The full height of the church

Wooden barrel vaults were used to advantage. The construction of the high nave and transepts is relatively light. Cross-vaults articulate the areas where the main parts of the building meet. The traditional method, based on wooden trusses, which was employed for the construction of the Zuiderkerk, was abandoned. The arches, pillars and entablatures contribute to the Renaissance aspect of the interior. Note the gigantic Doric pillars.

The chandeliers with the Amsterdam coat of arms

The pulpit as well as the richly decorated porches date back to circa 1630. The splendid organ was built in 1686. However, in the course of time, this top-class instrument underwent many modifications. The fine copper chandeliers were sold off in 1830. The current chandeliers are replicas made during the latest restoration. They came to replace the 19th century gaslight chandeliers. The original chandeliers of the Portuguese synagogue served as models.

The coat of arms above the main entrance is held up by two putti

In 1906 a stone tablet commemorating Rembrandt van Rijn was installed. It is generally assumed that this great painter was buried in the church on October 8, 1669. However, his mortal remains were never retrieved; nor is the exact location of his body known. When the heating system was replaced as part of the most recent restoration, many of the old graves were transferred to a graveyard in the eastern part of the city. It is not unlikely that Rembrandt’s mortal remains formed part of the unidentified bones removed at that time.

Stone tablet
commemorating Rembrandt