The tower lock

The Tower Lock: a dark history

Amsterdam has more canals than Venice and more bridges than Paris, each with its own history. Like the Tower Lock, that overly wide bridge over the Singel. Those barred windows are there for a reason: this used to be an underground prison.

The Torensluis, also known as Bridge9 or the Multatuli Bridge, is one of the widest bridges in Amsterdam at 42 meters.

First the tower, then the bridge
The bridge dates back to 1648, making it the oldest Amsterdam bridge preserved in its original state. The Jan Roodenpoortstoren, part of Amsterdam’s city wall, which was located on the inside of the Singel waterfront, used to stand here. At the site of the tower was a small passage in the city wall with a narrow wooden bridge over the water. The tower probably housed a city servant who supervised the gate. About 30 years after the tower was built, the environment began to change: the wooden bridges were replaced by bridges made of stone, as we know them today.

The Jan Rooden gate tower was demolished in 1829. The city wall, of which the tower was a part, had already disappeared by then. Moreover, the tower was badly neglected and affected by wood rot and the city of Amsterdam had no money to repair it. Just before demolition, City Architect Abraham van der Hart decided to measure the tower completely, should the city ever want to reconstruct it. If you look closely, you can still see the outline of the tower foundations in the paving of the bridge.

Pirates and sailors
The dungeons under the tower, unlike the tower, are still there. They were once used as prisons for pirates who evaded taxes. The dungeons also served as a sort of deterrent mechanism for visitors to the city of Amsterdam. When ships came in from the IJ, they passed under the Tower Lock. The shipmates thus got a good idea of the prisoners in their dungeons, which immediately served as a warning: better behave yourself in Amsterdam, otherwise you can spend the rest of your days in this prison. At the time of the Cold War, the dungeons had yet another function: as eavesdropping offices.

Since 1987, the bronze bust of Multatuli has stood on the Tower Lock. At the time, then Queen Beatrix unveiled the statue, created by artist Hans Bayens. The bust was made to mark the 100th death anniversary of Eduard Douwes Dekker, who wrote the book Max Havelaar under the author’s name Multatuli as an indictment of the exploitation and oppression of the people of the Dutch East Indies. A few blocks away, at Lauriergracht 37, is the address of the (fictional) coffee brokerage from Max Havelaar, “Last & Co. On the facade of this residential house is a sign bearing the name of the coffee merchant.

From jazz club to squat
The dungeons under the tower have been restored and made accessible to the public in recent years. After restoration of the dungeons, exhibitions and events were held underground; there was even a jazz club. When the spaces then sat vacant for several years, the former prison under the bridge was squatted by students from The Spinhuis Collective in September 2015. The former prison now houses a community center.

On the bridge
Sitting behind a serving of bitterballen at Villa Zeezicht or Café van Zuylen this summer, you now know a little more about what was happening directly below you at the time of the Middle Ages. Want to know (and see) more of Amsterdam’s history? Then book a canal cruise or boat tour (possibly with a guide) with De Nederlanden and experience Amsterdam from the water.