De Magere Brug

Amstel, Kerklaan
Piet Kramer

The history of this bridge goes back to the construction of the eastern canal ring in around 1660. Early maps of the area show a bridge at the intersection of the Amstel and Kerkstraat.

Construction and reconstruction
Thirty years later, a simple, narrow drawbridge with thirteen arches was built over the Amstel. Almost two hundred years later, this by now rather dilapidated bridge was in need of replacement and in 1871 a new double wooden drawbridge was built with nine arches. Although today’s Magere Brug bears a close resemblance to this nineteenth-century design, the present bridge was actually built in 1931, when the cross-river connection was once again renewed.

The origin of the bridge’s name (‘mager’ is Dutch for skinny) is perhaps more interesting than its history. What’s certain is that this name came into use sometime during the eighteenth century. One logical-sounding explanation is that the first bridge was so narrow that only ‘skinny’ pedestrians were able to pass each other on it. Another possibility is that boatmen, who had difficulty manoeuvring their cargoes through one of the thirteen narrow arches, gave the bridge its name.

A more amusing theory is that two sisters, who lived on opposite sides of the Amstel, commissioned the bridge’s construction. The name ‘Magere Brug’ would in that case refer to either the sisters’ surname or their physique. Another suggestion is that the sisters’ miserliness resulted in a rather ‘meagre’ bridge.

Whoever was responsible for the construction of the Magere Brug, and however narrow the result, he or she could scarcely have imagined that this bridge would today feature prominently in countless guide books as the ‘Skinny Bridge’.