Netherlands: Museum Willet-Holthuysen - Living the good life on an Amsterdam canal.

What?
A classic Amsterdam canal house that's now a museum.

Why visit?
Amsterdam=canals, right? But what's it like to live on one of those canals? If you've got a few million euros spare change you could buy yourself a classic Amsterdam townhouse facing one of the city's famous waterways.

If the funds are lacking, console yourself with a visit to this 17th century building, bequeathed to the city by the rich 19th century owners, and open to visitors ever since.

Where?
On the Herengracht in Amsterdam's Canal Belt. Map.


THE AMSTERDAM CANAL belt was an ambitious bit of city planning on par with the creation of Pudong in Shanghai or the construction of Astana in Kazakhstan.

Bursting at the seams of the medieval city limits, the 17th century leaders of Amsterdam, then one of the world's foremost economic powerhouses, decided they needed more space and provided their working class with an enormous amount of labour as it manually dug out a semi-circle of concentric waterways.

The names of these new canals reflected the ambitions of the real estate developers: Heren-, Keizers, and Prinsengracht, or in English, the Gentleman's, the Emperor's and the Prince's Canal.  No room for the riffraff here: this was were the city's rich and famous could settle, escaping the smelly and crowded surroundings of the old city.


A famous painting from 1685 conveys well the atmosphere just after the completion of the project: relatively empty streets, no trees or greenery, in short, the typical atmosphere of a slightly dead, recently finished urban residential extension.

Around the same time, in 1687 to be exact, the house at 605, Herengracht was nearing completion. It was a stately affair: double-wide, built for Jacob Hop, a Dutch diplomat, later treasurer of the Dutch Republic. (Makes you wonder where he got the money. But I digress.)

The house frequently changed hands, but it bears the name of the last person to live there: Ms Louisa Willet-Holthuysen, who died in 1895. 
The house in 2015. 
Ms Willet-Holthuysen was the widow of Abraham Willet, who was what's generally referred to as 'independently wealthy'. Having received his father's inheritance at a young age, he dropped out of uni, and vowed never to take up a real job, instead spending his time (and money) collecting art and going to the theatre. He married Louisa in 1861. Louisa, not without any means herself, was the lucky owner of this beautiful house and the couple settled here for 27 years of marital bliss.
Like many childless couples, the Willets shared the love with a variety of pets.  
Being sufficiently loaded, the Willets seem to have spent much of their time visiting the finest Parisian purveyors of luxury furnishings and furniture and dragging their goods back to their Amsterdam home.  
Abraham died in 1888, leaving Louisa to spent the last seven years here alone (with her staff of course). When she herself expired she left the house to the City of Amsterdam.

When Ms Louisa left the house and its substantial collection of art to the City it was a bit of a white elephant. Because there was a catch: the house had to be opened up to the general public. Which meant that the City had to actually employ people to manage it and invest in its upkeep. Initially just a few rooms were opened up and the Museum hit upon some rough times. These days most of the rooms have been restored to their 19th century condition and are as sumptuous as when the Willet-Holthuysens lived there.
The Gentlemen's Room- Abraham Willet's friends shot the breeze here surrounded by his art.
The Ballroom. 
Even the hallway was a classy affair. 
One of the most pleasant surprises is the beautiful garden- in fact, most canal houses were built with a garden, only to be seen and used by the house's inhabitants. Here is your chance to see what otherwise remains hidden to most casual visitors to the city.  

Getting there:
Central Amsterdam is pretty small- you could walk to the house from practically anywhere in the old city. Tram 4 passes close by on Utrechtsestraat, and both Rembrandtsplein and Waterlooplein are just around the corner. 

Useful links:
The Museum's website contains the usual information. 

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