Oude Kerk – Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Oldest Singing Tower

Together with neighboring Belgium, the Netherlands gave the world its largest musical instrument, the carillon, a bronze chorus of multiple bells that grace an untold number of church towers across the Low Countries.

During the so-called 17th-century golden age, as the Dutch empire expanded, Amsterdam became one of the richest cities in the world, and merchants donated large sums to their local churches.

Today Amsterdam’s churches have more carillons than any other Dutch city (nine in total, of which four give weekly con­certs), and the joyful sound of their music cascading down cobblestoned streets and rebounding across the canals and squares makes astonished visitors (and the occasional unjaded Amsterdammer) stop and smile.

The Rolls-Royces of carillons are those cast by the 17th-century French Hemony brothers, whose state-of-the-art technology produced an excep­tional sound quality that has never been matched. Amsterdam’s oldest church, the Oude Kerk (Old Church), dating from about 1300 (well before the small red-light district that ironically grew’ up around it), promises the best venue for weekly concerts with a magnif­icent, restored forty-seven-bell Hemony caril­lon.

The Oude Kerk’s delightful location in a linden tree—shaded square means outdoor cafes and ringside seats from which to listen to Amsterdam’s oldest “singing tower.” The Netherlands is also famous for its organs, and the Old Church proudly owns three of the most sophisticated extant in the country; their sum­mertime concerts are one of the season’s greatest pleasures.

One 18th-century model is said to be one of the world’s finest. If the con­certs don’t take your breath away, hike up the 230-foot tower for the best view of this unique City of Canals.

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