A City on Water
Courtesy of The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC)
The canals in Amsterdam total more than 60 miles in length.
With a quarter of its area covered in canals and harbors, Amsterdam is the most water-covered city in the world. This unique attribute has become a tourist attraction, as well as a way of life for people who live in Amsterdam.
When the city was founded around 1250, the intention was not to build a system of canals. Rather, the first waterway was built as a moat around the city for defense. As the city expanded, more canals had to be built to encircle the city, and the inner moats lost their purpose, until factories began using the moats as waterways; the factories along the river would ship their goods through the canals and out to awaiting ships in the harbor.
The city then saw the commercial benefits of using the canals as a means of transporting products, and three large main canals were built in the 1600s to expand the waterway system. Merchants located along the waterways were now able to receive shipments from around the world with ease. The city quadrupled in size due to the efficient waterway system.
The 1900s brought cars and shipping trucks to Amsterdam, and many of the waterways were filled in to make streets and parking areas. Today, approximately half of the original canals remain and very little cargo transportation is permitted on them. The city prefers to keep the canals for public use. There are approximately 15,000 pleasure sailboats registered in Amsterdam, and the summers bring boats from all over Europe. However, the canals tend to be fairly calm year-round, and the majority of traffic is tourism-related.