Sailing into History: The Legacy of Sailing Ships in Amsterdam

Sailing into History: The Legacy of Sailing Ships in Amsterdam

I. Historic Use of Sailing Ships in Amsterdam

Amsterdam's story is closely intertwined with the sea. Established as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, the city rose to prominence in the 17th century, a period commonly known as the Dutch Golden Age. The city's booming economy was buoyed by its strong maritime industry and the extensive use of sailing ships for trade, exploration, and military purposes.

Dutch East India Company (VOC) vessels, West Indiamen, and fluyts sailed from Amsterdam to all corners of the world, carrying goods ranging from spices and silk to grain and timber. These vessels turned Amsterdam into the world's foremost trading hub during the Golden Age, bringing untold wealth into the city.


II. Maintenance of Sailing Ships in Amsterdam

Amsterdam's geography, crisscrossed by a network of canals, provided an ideal environment for the construction, maintenance, and repair of sailing vessels. The city's shipyards, such as those located on the artificial islands of Kattenburg, Wittenburg, and Oostenburg, became renowned centers for shipbuilding and repair.

The process of maintaining a ship typically involved tasks such as caulking (sealing the ship's hull), scraping off marine growth, and regular inspections for woodworm or rot. This work was executed by a range of specialized tradesmen, including shipwrights, carpenters, and rope makers.


III. Contribution of Sailing Ships to Amsterdam

The sailing ships of Amsterdam were instrumental in the city's rise to global prominence. They played a vital role in trade, naval warfare, and exploration, establishing Amsterdam as a leading power during the Golden Age.

Amsterdam's maritime trade provided employment for thousands, not only on the ships themselves but also in related industries like shipbuilding, rope making, and provisioning. Moreover, the wealth brought back from overseas funded the arts, sciences, and architecture, leading to a rich cultural flowering that continues to define the city's identity today.


IV. Transition to Modern Ships

The advent of steam and steel in the 19th century brought a sea change to Amsterdam's maritime industry. Steamships, which were more reliable and could carry larger cargoes, gradually replaced sailing vessels on long-distance trade routes.

By the late 19th century, the city's traditional shipyards were building modern iron ships, and Amsterdam's focus shifted from global trade to becoming a major port for the transshipment of goods. However, the historic role of sailing vessels in shaping Amsterdam's identity remained undisputed.


V. Contemporary Use of Sailing Ships in Amsterdam

While modern vessels have taken over commercial and industrial transportation, the cultural legacy of Amsterdam's sailing ships is preserved and celebrated. A variety of historic sailing vessels, restored to their former glory, can be seen in and around the city's waterways.

These vessels are now mainly used for educational and tourism purposes. Museums such as the National Maritime Museum (Het Scheepvaartmuseum) use replica ships to educate visitors about Amsterdam's maritime history. Additionally, many traditional ships participate in events like SAIL Amsterdam, a large maritime event that attracts millions of spectators.



The rich maritime history of Amsterdam is intrinsically linked to the story of its sailing ships. These vessels, once the lifeblood of the city's trade, exploration, and military might, were instrumental in Amsterdam's rise as a global power during the Golden Age. Their maintenance in the city's shipyards provided employment and spurred related industries, shaping Amsterdam's socio-economic landscape. While modern vessels have replaced traditional sailing ships in commerce, they remain a vibrant part of the city's cultural heritage, contributing to tourism and education and reflecting the enduring maritime identity of Amsterdam.