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This splendid tower, located at the point where the Singel and Amstel canals meet, proudly presides the crowds of people who walk along Kalverstraat or make their way back from the well-known Bloemenmarkt (flower market) carrying shopping bags or bunches of flowers.
Do not, however, be mistaken into thinking that its name, which means Mint Tower, is in any way associated with the fact that you are in Amsterdam’s main shopping zone. Not at all. The name comes from the seventeenth century, when this tower was used to mint coins. What happened was that in 1672 England and France declared war on the Dutch Republic. Louis XIV’s troops occupied much of the country and gold and silver were not safe being transported to Dordrecht, which was where coins had previously been minted. Amsterdam and specifically this tower were therefore temporarily assigned this new function.
The history of the Munttoren, however, dates back two centuries before that, and it is believed to have been built around 1490. It was then part of one of the city gates called the Regulierspoort, or gate of the Regulars. Beside this tower, which is still standing, there was a second tower and a guardhouse.
Over the centuries, Amsterdam’s history and architecture have been influenced by the large number of devastating fires that the city has experienced. While the city’s two great churches, the Oude Kerk and the Nieuwe Kerk, were affected by the fires, the Gate of the Regulars, as part of the Munttoren was none less damaged.
In 1618 it caught fire and only the guardhouse and the part of the tower that can be seen today remained standing. Amsterdam commissioned one of its star architects, Hendrick de Keyser, to design a wooden superstructure on the remaining stone base. The Munttoren that visitors see today has something of Amsterdam Renaissance style, and features an eight-sided top half, a clock with four faces and a carillon of bells.
The Hemony brothers, master bell makers of the Nieuwe Kerk, made several items; more than for their previous project, the Amsterdam stock exchange. Over the centuries, they were damaged and were replaced by new bells that are currently rung every quarter of an hour. If you visit on a Saturday, come between two and three o’clock in the afternoon and you will hear a very pleasant bell concert.
However, if you would rather appreciate the art of the smaller original bells, these can be seen in Amsterdams Historisch Museum, where they are unquestionably better preserved than they were chiming in the carillon for centuries.
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