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  • Writer's pictureMoorea Hall-Aquitania, MA

A Brief History of the Zuiderkerk in Amsterdam

What is the Zuiderkerk?

The Zuiderkerk is a 17th-century Protestant church in Amsterdam that was designed by Hendrick de Keyser in the Renaissance style.

Zuiderkerk at night reflecting in the canal

Zuiderkerk History

The Zuiderkerk was the first Amsterdam church commissioned by the Protestant community. Located in the Nieuwmarkt area, it stands on the Zuiderkerkhof (or Southern Churchyard). The church was built in the early 17th century and designed by the sculptor and architect Hendrick de Keyser, also the architect of the city’s Noorderkerk and Westerkerk. De Keyser was buried here in 1621, although his memorial stone was only laid 300 years later.

The church was designed in the Renaissance style – exhibiting the architect’s intimate knowledge of Italian building – and its form has been called a ‘pseudo-basilica’. It has a central nave (the area for the congregation) and two side aisles, set slightly lower than the nave and lined with Tuscan columns. Originally holding stained glass, the church’s windows were reglazed later in the 17th century with transparent glass, as is the case in many other Protestant churches.

The eye-catching 70-metre-high tower was built three years after the main church building was completed in 1611. The base of the tower is square. On top of this is an octagonal sandstone section decorated with Ionic pillars, which higher up becomes a wooden spire covered in lead, as was traditional at the time. The tower is one of three in Amsterdam that you can climb for a panoramic view of the city. It also contains Amsterdam’s oldest clock (made in 1511) and the church bells, which are thought to be some of the best in the world.

The Zuiderkerk was special to the Golden Age artist Rembrandt because three of his children were buried here. It was close to his house on the Jodenbreestrat and his son Titus was baptised here in 1641.

The church is the subject of an 1874 painting by Impressionist Claude Monet, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In The Zuiderkerk, Amsterdam (Looking up the Groenburgwal), the church towers over the small white form of the Staalmeestersbrug drawbridge, a crossing that’s been renovated and rebuilt many times since its founding in the late 16th century. Monet captures the contrast between the church’s red-brick architecture, which matches the height of the other buildings in the painting, and the grey of its spire, which soars above everything else in the picture to pierce the clouds.

Used for church services until 1929, the Zuiderkerk is now a city council exhibition space and information centre as well as a location for weddings, conferences, readings, concerts, and festivals. The massive, column-filled nave is often lit with coloured lights as it hosts lively gatherings. Although it’s a change from the original function of the church, it’s pleasing to see the space still being used and enjoyed by Amsterdammers after so many centuries.

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