February 29, 2016 was the warmest leap day ever recorded. July 29, 2014 is considered one of the wettest days the Netherlands has ever known. Weather changes, and it has been debated for years about what causes it. We often forget that there have been extreme weather conditions in the past. The Little Ice Age, which took several centuries for harsh winters in our region, long periods of drought, but also endlessly down pouring rain, which did occur in combination with melt water from mountain rivers burst their banks, also in Amsterdam.
1651 was one of the disaster years for the city concerning water. On the night of March 4 to 5 it is exactly 365 years since the city and surrounding area was ravaged by St Peter flood. That night a huge northwesterly gale combined with the full moon caused spring tide. The result was an extremely high water level with disastrous consequences.
Due to the extreme weather St. Anthony Dike broke, just outside Amsterdam, in two places. This dike ran from the Nieuwmarkt, via St. Anthoniebreestraat and Jodenbreestraat by current Plantage neighborhood and from the Mauritskade to the east, where his name was also Zeeburgerdijk or Diemerzeedijk. The dike, which now houses the Gemeenlandshuis at Diemerzeedijk, had a breakthrough in the former hamlet Jaap Hannes. And on the east side of the current Artis (Zoo) the dike collapsed at the former village Houtewael. This allowed the newly drained Diemermeer polder, now known as Watergraafsmeer, to stand 4.5 meters under water. But also in the city held no Amsterdammer kept dry feet. Nieuwmarkt was flooded and the water ran through the Nieuwendijk and the Warmoesstraat. Houses of mayors, craftsmen and laborers were under. Also along the North Sea coast and Zuiderzee and the damage was enormous.
This disaster made a big impression, which can be seen in the many drawings, prints and paintings made at the time. The breakthrough in Houtewael is the most recorded in words and pictures. In the Rijksmuseum example drawings by Jan van Goyen can be seen, but also a print by Roeland Roghman and since last year a painting by Jan Asselijn. But also in the collection of the Amsterdam Museum and the depots of the Amsterdam City Archives are several work descriptions that recall the disaster. A disaster which showed that water can be next to a friend certainly could be an enemy for the city. Not only then but in the following centuries and still today.