The warren of tiny streets to the west of the canal rings is known as the Jordaan. The area was the settling ground for the thousands of immigrants who flooded into the city in the 17th century. While the origins of the name are unclear, its is widely believed to be a corruption of Le Jardin, used by the French Hugenot immigrants to describe it.

Certainly many of the streets are named after trees and flowers: Palmgracht, Goudsbloemstraat (marigold), Lindengracht (lime canal) etc. However others argue it comes from the biblical river Jordan. Because the smarter Prinsengracht was the boundary between the elegant canals and the working class neighbourhood it earned the nickname "the Jordan" and in the late 17th century the Jordan dwellers were refered to as "those from the backstreets across the Jordan". From the beginning of the 18th century that name applied to the whole area.
The area at first seems to be a maze of streets criss crossing each other at random, but in fact the plan is well structured, following the lines of the fields and drainage ditches from when the area was farmed. The street names reflect the relationship of the side streets to the main canals, dwars meaning cross, so a dwarsstraat crosses the main street of the same name.

By 1800 24 percent of Amsterdam's population of 200,000 were squashed into the Jordaan and by the beginning of this century the area was little more than a slum. After World War II plans were drawn up to demolish it completely.

However, squatters and artists began to move in, and today the area, which has some 800 listed monuments, is once again a thriving community with the craftshops, galleries and cafes of the new arrivals mixed in with the lace hung windows of the old. Actually, its gotten very smart. Tiny but good restaurants, second-hand record stores, non-chain clothes shops and galleries.