Magere Brug: The Intriguing History of Skinny Bridge, Amsterdam

Magere Brug
Magere Brug | © Medienservice / Pixabay
Photo of Tom Coggins
12 September 2018

Steeped in heritage and folk tales, Magere Brug or Skinny Bridge – a narrow, whitewashed bridge in Amsterdam – has a fascinating history, to say the least.

Recognised as one of the most picturesque bridges in Amsterdam, Magere Brug spans the northern banks of the river Amstel. Although it looks considerably older thanks to its Neoclassical design, Magere Brug was actually completed in the early 20th century.

Three centuries of history

Over the past three centuries, a succession of similar bridges have been built on the same spot, each bearing the name Magere Brug. Records indicate that the first bridge located on this site was completed in 1691 and remained there until 1871 when it was torn down due to its dilapidated state. Another bridge soon replaced it, before being demolished in 1934 for the same reasons. The current Magere Brug was completed soon after and designed to resemble its predecessors, hence its age-old appearance.

Known for its low underpasses, whitewashed facade and central drawbridge, today’s Magere Brug ranks among the most iconic landmarks in central Amsterdam. Unlike most other bridges from this period, Magere Brug’s design draws inspiration from classical Dutch architecture from the 17th century, featuring lofty yet sober elements that are reflective of this era, such as its central archway and pulley system.

Magere Brug has a small, central drawbridge | © djedj / Pixabay

Tall tales and name origins

Magere Brug’s name actually hints at its nature, translating from Dutch into English as ‘skinny bridge’. Even though this title seems rather self-explanatory, several folktales suggest that the bridge was christened Magere Brug for other reasons. One such story states that the first Magere Brug was built by two affluent sisters who lived on either side of the river Amstel. In order to connect their houses, they commissioned the bridge but weren’t quite wealthy enough to afford a wider walkway, resulting in its slim design.

Another equally tall tale suggests that the bridge was given its title as only ‘skinny’ pedestrians could pass each other on its narrow walkway. Some folks also believe that boatmen named it Magere Brug as they had trouble moving their vessels beneath its minuscule arches.

Magere Brug | © pdimaria / Pixabay

The bridge today

Whereas most other nearby bridges are open to traffic, only pedestrians and cyclists are allowed to cross Magere Brug due to its famously narrow walkway, creating an air of exclusivity that adds to its historic charm. After dark, 1,200 lights illuminate the bridge, causing a picture-perfect reflection to appear in the waters beneath its archways.

In recent years, the bridge has become a popular destination for couples searching for a romantic backdrop for photographs and visitors to Amsterdam who want to create Instagram-worthy shots of themselves standing above the river Amstel. Nowadays, it is also common for boat tours of Amsterdam’s canals to pass beneath the bridge, allowing passengers to experience Magere Brug’s unique architecture from the water.

Magere Brug illuminated at night | © Jorge Royan / WikiCommons

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