No Wells in Amsterdam?

Were there really no wells in Amsterdam in the late 1600s?  While researching material for my book about Maria Sybilla Merian I realized that not once had I come across any reference to wells.  Nothing was mentioned in the books I read.  I had not seen any marked on old maps of the city.  Oh there was plenty of water with all of those canals, but I suspected that the canal water was salty since they did connect with the sea.  So where did the residents of Amsterdam get their drinking water?  Who could I ask?

I finally emailed the information desk of the Amsterdam Historical Museum with my question.  Frans Oehlen answered.  He answered my question and provided even more information.
As I thought, canal water was salty.  It was also polluted.  But it was used for washing, and for cleaning doorsteps.
Some people used rainwater collected in wooden rain barrels for their drinking water.  But there was not always enough.
The best water for drinking was brought into Amsterdam by water barges.  These barges brought water from the Amstel River (upstream), the Gein River, and especially from the Vecht River.  This water was for sale, though, and not everyone could afford it.  Also during the winter it could be a serious problem to keep the rivers navigable when they became frozen over.  (Ice cutters probably had a good seasonal business then.)
I had never given a thought to the possibility that people ever might have to buy water back then.  In fact I assumed that buying water was a more modern phenomenon.  I knew from traveling when I was a child that the taste of local water in various places could be quite different, but nobody ever bought and took water with them anywhere.  Only fairly recently has buying bottles and jugs of water become an option…at least in my area of the world. 


This bit of architechture is a famous landmark in Nürnberg, Germany; it is called a chörlein.  This one was built in 1513.  Looks to me like an elaborate 3-sided bay window held up by an elaborate stone column attached to the side of the house.  This house is where the pastor lived.  
The other building in the background is the St. Sebaldus church, the one Maria Sybilla Merian Graf attended, and where her second daughter, Dorothea, was baptised.

Before Streets Had Names

CornerCorner figureKnight
In the old city of Nurnberg there are a number of these figures, each one placed on the corner of a building at a street intersection.  They are not only lovely sculptures, but sculptures with a purpose.  Well, they served a purpose back in history…back when city streets did not have any names.  These figure served as reference points for people trying to find a certain shop or house.
It's another indication of how much larger our cities and towns are today.  Can you imagine trying to give anyone directions today without using street names?  Or numbers?

The Beautiful Fountain

image of fancy spire of Schoenebrunnen — Beautiful FountainThe tall fancy spire you see above the market booths is the Schoenebrunnen, or the Beautiful Fountain, and is very aptly named!  It is the most beautiul fountain I’ve ever seen.  And probably the tallest.  The workmanship that went into making this is absolutely incredible.

detail of the Beautiful Fountain, SchoenebrunnenHere is a close up of this fountain.  The photo was taken through the fancy wrought iron fence which encloses it.

Man touching a golden ring on the fountain's ironworkThe golden ring is supposed to bring good luck when you turn it.  Yes, it does move!  Of course, you have to find it first, and that is no easy task!  The ornate iron work is such that the ring blends in beautifully, and even the change of color does not stand out immediately.

another section of ironwork with a second iron ringAnd, unbeknownst to a lot of tourists, there is an iron ring on the other side of the fountain.  Some of the local people asked me if I knew about this one, and when I said no, they beckoned me to this side and said that turning this one ensures that you have children.  Apparently especially important after the plague which wiped out so many. Can you find it?

A Walking Tour of the Old Town

MarketSpargel mkt

The first thing I did was to take a walking tour just to get a basic idea of where things were and what there was.  Supposedly a 2 1/2 hour tour, ours lasted another hour because our guide took the time to answer questions as well as adding more information when the group showed more interest.  Walking around the town also showed us very quickly just how steep the terrain was going up to the base of the castle.  And from the base on up to the castle grounds was even more so!

We started at the Hauptmarkt, or the main market area.
The photo on the left shows the booths set up by the vendors.  They filled the entire large otherwise open square.  This square is the main market area of ancient Nürnberg where farmers brought their fruits, vegetables, eggs, animals, etc. to sell on market days.  As you can see, this still occurs (but without the animals).
The twin spires in the background are part of St. Sebaldus church, the church Maria Sybilla Merian Graf attended and where her second daughter, Dorothea, was baptized.  The family lived just a short way up the hill from this church.
The white stuff in the photo on the right is white asparagus.  This was the season for fresh asparagus and many of the sellers had it for sale.

Entering the old city of Nürnberg

At last I get to see what it is like to be in a city surrounded by its old protective walls.  (These walls were completed in 1452.)
The photo on the left is of the entrance I used most of the time when entering and leaving the old original part of the city since I stayed in a small pension outside of these walls not far from the train station.
The photo on the right is a typical view of what the walls look like from inside the old city.  The square towers each had a door which provided access to the top of the wall.  Here it was easy to imagine men patrolling the covered walkways and keeping a close watch on any activity outside these walls. 

From One Place to the Other

After a new Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was crowned––in the Dom, shown on the left, he proceeded to the Kaisersaal––shown on the right––for a huge banquet held in his honor.
It's amazing how tall those old churches are, and how beautiful.
It's difficult to even imagine the long process needed to build such an imposing church without the time-saving conveniences of modern technology.  But I'm sure the construction of such a building provided good employment for a lot more people, too.
And speaking of construction, there was a lot of that, or maybe it was restoration and repair, going on when I was in Frankfurt.  And since all the scaffolding is usually covered, that makes it impossible to get a good view of the buildings in question.  Both the Dom and the Romer had such scaffolding when I was there.  It wasn't tourist season, yet, so maybe they were trying to have everything done before all the tourists came.  (Well, it sounds good, anyway.)
The Kaisersaal, which was used as a banquet hall, was fascinating in a different way.  I just couldn't get over the fact that the left side of the room is actually longer than the right side!  Looking at the curved beams of the ceiling is about the only way that can be seen in a photograph; there's an extra one on the left side going only to the center. (Looks a bit strange when you walk to the windows!)

Child’s Chair of the 1600’s

I saw this chair in one of the museums in Frankfurt am Main.  Hmmm…looks more comfortable than chairs we have for kids today.  It's a nice leather chair.  With the tray it's not only good to use for feeding, but could also be a place to set a child with a toy or two for entertainment.  Would that have been the option before the days of playpens?
And, of course, I have to wonder…did Maria Sybilla or her daughters ever sit in a chair like this?


image of rooster and cross on the bridge

During my research I saw an old map view of the city of Frankfurt am Main that was engraved by Matthaus Merian, the father of Maria Sybilla Merian.  On this map were the tiny figures of a (dark) crucifix with a (gold) rooster above it.  This was placed to indicate the middle of the bridge where the river was deepest.  The larger boats needed to stay in the deep section going under the bridge; if they chose one of the other arches they could easily have ended up stuck in shallow waters.

There is a legend told of this golden rooster, called by the old name of Briggegickel.  It seems that each time a bridge was built over the river connecting Frankfurt with Sachsenhausen on the other side, before long it would be washed away by a flood.  The city decided this time the bridge should be of stone.  They hired an expert stonemason to do the job, then told him it had to be built in two days.  He rounded up a crew and they went to work.  He realized that it would not be done in time and was very worried.

A stranger appeared to the stonemason and said that he could get the bridge finished in time, and for payment he required only the soul of the first two-legged being to cross the new bridge.  The worried stonemason, seeing hope for the first time, quickly agreed.

Early the next morning the stonemason awoke with a heavy heart.  His shoulders slumped as he went to join the town council for the opening of the new bridge.  He realized that, as the stonemason hired to build this bridge, HE would be the first to cross it.  And he had agreed to exchange his soul for the completion of the bridge.  He had made an agreement with the devil.   Almost at the bridge, his footsteps slowed.  He looked around and saw a rooster strutting nearby.  He grabbed the rooster and ran to the edge of the bridge.

The devil was waiting at the other end.  The stonemason tossed the rooster onto the bridge.  The squawking rooster ran the length of the bridge to the other side.  “There’s your two-legged being!” shouted the stonemason.  And he leaped for joy because he had just beat the devil.

The stonemason told the city council what had happened; the story spread.  A sculptured golden rooster was added to the crucifix on the bridge to commemorate how the stonemason had outwitted the devil.

The golden rooster and the dark crucifix can be seen today in the Historical Museum of Frankfurt.