Lacking stone or granite, the Dutch used their abundant clay to make bricks and developed the distinctive housing style seen here in Café Papeneiland. The decorative trapgevel, or “step-gables”, also allowed chimney sweeps or roofers easier access to tall buildings in a time when long ladders were not readily available.
Amsterdam – Fact Check

What are those steps on Dutch roofs for?

Photo by Frans Lemmens

Amsterdam – Fact Check What are those steps on Dutch roofs for?

Café Papeneiland, with its lovely corner setting, is one of the most-photographed buildings in Amsterdam.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

This flat country may not have given its residents many stones for building but it does give up lots of clay, which is why Dutch houses are mostly made from brick. Using this simplest of materials, they developed the distinctive housing style seen here at the iconic Café Papeneiland in Amsterdam's Canal Ring.

The 'trapgevel' (step-gables) did give chimney sweeps or roofers easier access to high buildings, as long ladders were not very common. However, they were mainly used for fashion purposes during the Dutch Renaissance from 1600-1665, disguising the straight lines of the traditional triangular gable. They later evolved into more ornate forms but, by the late 1700s, the plainer style of the house on the right had come into fashion (although there was a brief 19th century revival).

One disadvantage with this house design is that the tiles do not overlap the walls, which would protect them from weather. That’s why plaster, stone or other decorations are needed to protect the top of the wall, while the seal between roof and gable is also critical.

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