Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is located along the Amstel River. It is considered as the most multicultural place on Earth. Its population is 750,000, representing up to 177 nationalities. It is the second largest port in the Netherlands (after Rotterdam), and an important center of culture, science and tourism.
According to some legend Amsterdam was founded by two Frisian fishermen, who nailed the banks of the Amstel River on a boat, accompanied with a dog. One of the fishermen decided to build a house in a place that the dog would choose for rest. And so it happened. The dog run to the river bank, lied down and felt asleep, and the fisherman builded his house in that place.
Stary herb miasta
Scientists date however beginnings of the city in the year 1175, when the first settlers started their existence there. Initially they led a very hard life, but were at least free men, not having to pay taxes and not responding tribute to the feudal lords. Amsterdam is located in a place where the river Amstel flows into the internal IJ Sea, rich is in fish. Close to the mouth Amstel is divided into several branches. One of them was present Damrak, the most important water thoroughfare of the city.
Residents of Amsterdam locked the waterway with dams and isolated it and this enabled navigation and control of the water level. The name of the city originates from the first dam. Originally it was Amstellredamme, or “dam on the Amstel”, later the name evolved into Amsterdam.
In 1602 the Dutch established the East India Company (VOC, we write of it in the Dutch East Indies), leading a very lucrative trade with the Far East. Up to 1611 Amsterdam denied Spaniards, Portuguese and Venetians from there thus becoming the largest European importer of spices and other goods – very expensive those times. The big gain allowed for the construction of water infrastructure in Amsterdam, leading to the development of a rather vibrant city. Already in 1613 the town started works on the system of semicircular canals. In the picture: sailing boat “Amsterdam”, Sea Museum.
Kanały – turyści pływają po nich specjalnymi wycieczkowymi łodziami
Traders were offered the opportunity to invest in the local economy and were encouraged to build prestigious residences along the channels. All houses built along the Amsterdam’s channels are similar in height and width. (Due to the high price of land that houses are not broad.) But wealthy merchants bought more than one plot and built very large residences, decorated by renowned artists like Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer and Bola.
Those houses also served as warehouses – the ground floor was for offices, lofts were for trade articles. They were transported up with cranes, which protruding beams still adorn many peaks. The historic center has left little room for modern architecture. The exception is the NEMO museum building, designed by Renzo Piano.
NEMO is the newest addition to past and present port areas, visible from many places in the city. Amsterdamers have their own name for it – “Titanic” – because it looks like a sinking ship. It was opened in 1997. From the top of NEMO it is possible to see an impressive panorama of the city and in the summer popular café and restaurant are opened there.
Children and young people appreciate other attractions which are waiting inside the building. There are a variety of interactive gadgets and inventions of modern times. The permanent exhibition “Why does the world go round” allows them to experience the lack of gravity and learn the secrets of chain reactions.
DAM SQUARE AND THE ROYAL PALACE
The most important place in Amsterdam is the Dam Square, the largest meeting place in the center for Amsterdammers and tourists. On the eastern side of the square is situated the Royal Palace, built in the 17th century as a town hall, but transformed into a palace in 1808, in King Louis Bonaparte time.
The Royal Palace
Today the palace is no more a seat of the sovereign, and the King Willem Alexander officially resides in The Hague. The building is in use only during state ceremonies, like the submission of wreath at the monument to the victims of World War II.
Pomnik ofiar II wojny światowej
Anyone looking for peace and quiet can find it in the Begijnhof, the seat of the Order Beguine and – carried out by them to this day – a shelter for widows and single women. There you can enter through a small gate closed with historical door, marked only by the stone in the wall in one of the houses on the Spui square. In the middle of the courtyard there is a church called Engelsekerk, because once served for the British settlers. The beguine nuns lived here since 1346, and were respected so much that they were not forbidden of practicing Catholicism in the time of Protestant domination. In the shelter dogs are not permitted and visitors are obliged to keep quiet as it is a place for rest, reflection and prayer.
MUSEUM SQUARE AND THE RIJKSMUSEUM
Amsterdam has its own district of museums – the Museum Square. Once it was used as a big parking lot for tourist buses. Today it is a large park with pavilions built of glass and steel, with shops and cafes. Above the many museums dominates the Rijksmuseum with the most beautiful and the most outstanding works of Dutch painters of the Golden Age.
Paintings have been carefully selected so are the most representative for Dutch art and its variety of themes. A separate wing of the museum is dedicated to sculpture and ornamentation. One of the exhibitions shows history of the Northern Netherland and the most important moments in the past of the state. The Rijksmuseum is huge, so to watch the treasures stored there it is necessary to spend the whole day inside.
RED LIGHT DISTRICT
For many tourists the most exciting place in Amsterdam is certainly the Red Light District, famous for its legal prostitution. To get there it needs only a short walk from Dam Square along Damstraat on Prins Achterburgwal. The road leads to – name the few – Museum of Hashish, Marijuana and Hemp, or to the Museum and Library of Tattoo. During the day the streets of the Red Light District are no different from other streets of Amsterdam. Only in the evening façades light up with signboards of sex-shops or shocking windows with scantily clad women encouraging for erotic pleasures.
Red Lights District
While the public and legal drug use in Amsterdam is due to a very liberal law, prostitution is almost as old as the city itself. Instead of pretending that there is no prostitution problem, it was decided to legalize it. Prostitutes must have a license, are obliged to a periodic test (that order comes from the Napoleon time), and their income is taxed. Those “immoral” ladies are even represented in the Chamber of Commerce! Amsterdam tolerance toward sex and drugs attracts thousands of tourists to the city, and is the result of the famous Dutch maxim: “I do not like what you do, but I recognize that I have no right to interfere in your affairs if you expect that you will not interfere in mine.” In the picture: coffeeshop.
The Red Light District is close to the spacious square Nieuwemarkt. Surrounded by cafes and restaurants, a market with flowers, cheese, fruit and vegetables operates there. It is famous for a building of Scales (Waag), which was converted into a popular dining with a summer terrace. It was built in 1488 to guard the entrance to the city from the south, but when Amsterdam expanded its borders, it turned out to be unnecessary.
So it has been transformed into the public scale to let traders and producers to check the weight of their goods.
AMSTERDAM FOR EVERYONE
The above-mentioned places and objects are only a small part of the attractions offered by Amsterdam, which is a city extremely diverse and inspiring. It is a place of many intellectual and artistic projects. It is also a kind of chaotic mixture of trams, bicycles, street musicians and organ grinders, where magnificent palaces and churches are adjacent to the museums of sex and drugs. In the picture: a shop with tourists gadgets, which can be clearly recognized by traditional Dutch shoes called klumpen.
It requires only one step to find himself in the quiet streets or places such as Begijnhof. It is a personal taste which of the many attractions to select.
Photo: Dorota Mazur