Amsterdam's canal district: remnant of Dutch golden age

Amsterdam's 17th century canal district, added this past weekend to UNESCO's World Heritage List, is a remnant of the Dutch Golden Age, a time when the city led the world in art, trade and architecture.

The zone is composed of four curved canals that run parallel to each other and half encircle the Amsterdam city centre, including its famous red light district - the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizergracht and the Prinsengracht.

The canals are 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) long in total, and are crossed by 80 bridges. The total surface area is 160 hectares, measuring 3.5 kilometres from east to west.

The bank of the outermost Prinsengracht canal houses the world-famous Anne Frank House and the Westerkerk church whose bell the Jewish teenager wrote about in her diary while in hiding from the Nazis.

"The Amsterdam canal belt is unique in the world as an urban developmental and architectural artwork," the Amsterdam municipality says in a document backing its UNESCO bid.

It is an example of the city's 17th century economic, political and cultural blossoming - a time when Amsterdam was the "warehouse of the world".

"The Amsterdam inner city is the most successful example of early modern city planning in Europe," states the document, and the canal belt "a masterpiece of hydraulic engineering".

"An ingenious system of fixed and moveable bridges, sluices and locks, which are still functional today, regulated the water level and the unrestricted circulation of land and water traffic," states the document.

According to the Amsterdam tourism bureau, 38 percent of tourists come to Amsterdam to see the protected canal belt, which houses 8,000 monuments.

The Netherlands now has nine UNESCO-listed heritage sites, including an 18th century collection of windmills in Kinderdijk in the west of the country and the colonial-style city centre of Willemstad, capital of the Antilles island of Curacao that forms part of the Dutch kingdom.

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