3 Centuries of Intensive Renovations

The Monuments and Archaeology Department is over the coming months performing, as part of a construction project, an archaeological research at the site Valkenburgerstraat 72-106. This now wide and busy road between Waterloo Square and the IJ-tunnel was until 1930 a narrow street just 5 meters wide and which had close-cropped buildings on both sides.

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The basement of the vestibule of Valkenburgerstraat 104 was enlarged in the 18th century, a wall (center) was demolished, the old tiled floor (below right) got a new one built over it, and a fireplace is placed against the side wall, visible because of the soot on the wall. – Department of Monuments and Archaeology

The island of Marken, not to be confused with the island of the same name near Volendam, was built in 1592 together with the islands Uilenburg and Rapenburg as a new port east of the Lastage. Valkenburgerstraat formed the main street. Since the shipbuilding moved to the Eastern Islands after 1660, Marken gradually turned into a residential neighborhood. The original 25 m wide ship plots were divided and houses on the street and small boarding houses on narrow lanes or corridors in the rear areas.

Marken and the other two former harbor islands became from the second half of the 17th century part of the Jewish neighborhood. This was originally around the island Vlooienburg, now known as Waterlooplein. In 1930 the now greatly dilapidated buildings were radically restructured on Marken and broadened on the east side from 5 to 25 meters. After the deportations of Jews from Amsterdam during World War II there was huge vacancy in this neighborhood. In the 50s of the last century the south side of the street was completely demolished and the Valkenburgerstraat was redecorated as a gateway to the IJ tunnel.

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The highly dilapidated Valkenburgerstraat seen towards Waterlooplein in 1926 – Amsterdam City Archives

The excavation is still ongoing but it already shows how many walls and floors are still in the bottom present, only a meter and a half meters under the street level. These witnesses of three centuries of intensive occupation at Valkenburgerstraat. The remains offer a unique glimpse of life in this neighborhood which has now been disappeared. Single brick thin walls indicate that the boarding houses were built with minimal resources. Also they spared on materials in the construction of the foundation. For example, there were fewer piles applied or a less solid construction which arose earlier subsidence. With these cost savings, the homes were far from sustainable.

These small living spaces had an average of 20 m² (just over 215 ft²)*, they had floors of red tiles or bricks that lay directly on the wet soft soil and therefore gradually subsided. In order to counteract the moist living conditions, a new floor of paving brick was regularly placed on a layer of sand over the old floor. The neighborhood became heavy populated in the 18th century so the storage cellars of the houses along Valkenburgerstraat were converted into living spaces, equipped with a fireplace. These basement houses were faced with the same structural problems as the boarding house units on the rear grounds, and all the renovations that this entails.

*BTW, a normal Amsterdam apartment measures nowadays approx 56 m² or 603 ft².