The Dutch city of Haarlem, capital of the North Holland province, is a historic city filled with reminders of its medieval and Dutch Golden Age Roots. Its grand Gothic cathedral, the St. Bavokerk, is the centrepiece of the city, and the windmill Molen de Adriaan and the Haarlem Cathedral are also impressive buildings of the old town. But one of the most overlooked buildings is the Amsterdamse Poort, an elegant and picturesque fortification. The only surviving gate of a series of 12, Amsterdamse Poort is beautifully restored, and makes for a great hidden treasure to discover for history and architecture lovers alike.
Haarlem’s Old City Wall
During the High Middle Ages, Haarlem was ringed by an impressive city wall, with 12 gates positioned to let people in and out of the city. A system of walls, canals, gates and strongholds protected the city from attack. In the 16th century, the wall was put to the test during the Siege of Haarlem, in which the city walls suffered significant damage attempting to repel Spanish invaders.
Amsterdamse Poort – The Last Surviving Gate
The Amsterdamse Poort was built in 1355, originally named the Spaarnewouderpoort, as the road led to the town of Spaarnewoude. It was renamed the Amsterdamse Poort sometime after 1631, after the completion of the canal Haarlemmertrekvaart. This new canal made travelling to Amsterdam much shorter and more convenient, and the gate’s name was changed.
The gate was slated for demolition in 1865, along with several other surviving gates. It’s condition had deteriorated, and it was in the path of a planned new bridge over the Spaarne. As unexpected budget problems didn’t allow the bridge to be built that year, the Amsterdamse Poort was renovated in order to improve its safety in the meantime. In 1867, it was used as a storage facility for munitions after the demolition of the historic Papentoren. The bridge was completed in 1868, and by 1889 the old gate seemed to have been spared the fate of all the other towers, and was renovated. In the 1960s, it was declared a rijksmonument (national monument), and it was fully restored in 1985.
The Demolished City Gates Of Haarlem
The Amsterdamse Poort is the only surviving gate from the city wall. As the city expanded, the decision was made by the city to demolish the walls and the gates throughout the nineteenth century. Destroying the old gates allowed for wider roads and larger squares to be opened up, and reduce expensive upkeep costs for the towers, many of which had fallen into disrepair.
The Schalkwijkerpoort was named for its location in the southern province of Schalkwijk, on the east bank of the Spaarne. The first accounts of this gate come from 1420. The gate played a key role in the Siege of Haarlem from 1572-1573, repelling invading forces from the south. It was demolished in 1866.
Translating to the ‘duck gate’, the Eendjespoort was a water gate which was also known as the Leidse Waterpoort. At the southern point of the Spaarne river, it led south, where water barges would head out towards Leiden. The construction of the Trekvaart Haarlem-Leiden in 1657 made it obsolete for the most part. It was knocked down in 1866.
Built in 1571, the Kleine Houtpoort was attached to Kleine Houtstraat in the southern part of the wall. It is said that the Spanish besiegers avoided the Kleine Houtpoort during the siege of Haarlem due to it’s imposing appearance. It was demolished in 1873.
Grote Houtpoort was located at the southern end of Grote Houtstraat at the Houtplein. It was built in 1591, replacing an older city gate. In 1824, it was one of the first gates to be destroyed, clearing space to widen the road. The city was hosting The General Exhibition Of Objects Of National Industry in 1825, drawing visitors to the showcase of farmers’ and artisans’ products.
The Raampoort (window gate) was built in 1610 as an exit for weavers to be able to access their fields. It was located on the Wilsonplein, near the present day Raambrug and the Stadsschouwburg theatre.
The Raakstorens were a pair of twin towers that gated the Haarlemse Beek, a brook that used to flow in the city. It is thought to have been built between 1420 and 1425. The Raakstorens were used primarily for the beer brewing trade, with water for brewing loaded into barges in the Brouwerskolk area and transported down the Brouwersvaart canal. At night, the water gate was closed by raising a chain called a raaks, giving the gate its name. The towers were damaged in the Siege of Haarlem, and later restored, before being finally demolished in 1866.
Built in 1624, decades after the siege of Haarlem, the western-facing Zijlpoort stood at the end of the Zijlweg street. Along with the Grote Houtpoort, it was razed in 1824.
The Kruispoort, in the north of Haarlem, is known for its spectacular demolition by the Haarlemmers themselves. Desperate against the Spanish invaders, the Dutch forces undermined the inner gate of the Kruispoort with gunpowder, destroying the gate and some of the Spanish attackers. In 1593, the gate was rebuilt, but was subsequently torn down in 1683 to expand the city northward.
The Sint Janspoort led into Jansstraat in the north part of the city. It was named after the Jansherenklooster, a monastery. It was destroyed in 1683, along with the Kruispoort.
The Nieuwpoort, also named the Kennemerpoort, was built in 1677 to replace the Kruispoort and the Sint Janspoort. The gate, located further north than the current day train station, was knocked down in 1866. It was replaced by the park De Bolwerken, designed by famed local architect Jan David Zocher Jr. The park was named De Bolwerken, The Strongholds, in the gate’s honour. Part of the Gaye’s facade was donated to the Gemeentelijke school voor Jongens school.
Fencing off the northern entrance to the Spaarne river was the Sint Catrijnenpoort. It was heavily damaged during the Siege of Haarlem, with the two towers of the gate rebuilt in 1589. The new towers were named the Zanderstoren and the Goe Vrouwtoren. While the Zanderstoren was later demolished, the Goe Vrouwtoren eventually formed the basis of the building of the Molen de Adriaan windmill.
It seems to be simply good fortune that the Amsterdamse Poort survived demolition, when all the rest of the city gates were torn down. The building is a fascinating reminder of a different age in Haarlem’s history. To find the Amsterdamse Poort, it is located on the east bank of the Spaarne, about 6 minutes walk south of the Molen de Adriaan windmill.