Introduction To Amsterdam

Amsterdam flag

Amsterdam flag

Amsterdam is the proud owner of one of the most important intact historical city centres of the world, and one of the most intact. Since its very early days, over 700 years ago, the City of Amsterdam has occupied a key position. Growing from a fishing village in the powerful province of Holland, the city developed into a hub for trade, the arts and politics. The first written mention of Amsterdam comes in 1275. In that year Count Floris V granted the people living near the dam on the Amstel River freedom to navigate the waters of the Province of Holland – without paying tolls. When fisherman who lived along the banks of the River Amstel built a bridge across the waterway near the IJ and added wooden doors on the bridge served to as a dam; and protect the town from the IJ, which often flooded the early settlement they could never have foreseen what their efforts would develop into. This bridge was built where the Damrak is now. Floris was later murdered by the Lords of Amstel with the connivance of the Bishopric of Utrecht how is that for a supportive clergy! However in the very early 1300s Amsterdam was granted a city charter by its feudal lord, the Bishop of Utrecht.

Then two things happened, firstly in 1323 the city was allowed a monopoly on the import of beer from Hamburg. This gave Amsterdam a valuable competitive advantage over everyone else. Secondly; when the Herring fish shifted their spawning ground to the North Sea, Amsterdam saw its chance to penetrate a new market, traditionally this had been dominated by the Baltic States. This coincided with new gutting techniques enabling the catch to be kept fresh longer then previously and so travel further reaching new markets. As a result the city’s wealth grew.

Although Amsterdam is officially designated as the capital of the Netherlands, it has never been the seat of the government, which is located at The Hague. Amsterdam is also not the capital of the province in which it is located, North Holland, whose capital is located at Haarlem.

Amsterdam Today

About 20,000 buildings make up the historical city centre of some 800 hectares. One third of these were built before 1850. Several city wide fires over the last few hundred years eliminated many of the oldest wooden buildings. There are approximately 6,700 national historic buildings preserved by the national government authority located in this area. Another 290 municipal monuments are preserved by the Amsterdam city council. A further 1,160 buildings fall outside these categories and are labeled as original premises because of their cultural historical interest. Since 1989 this whole area was recommended for inclusion in the list of protected cityscapes under the Dutch Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act. Amsterdam is the proud owner of one of the most important intact historical city centres of the world.

If you lined all of the historic houses up into one row it would be 52km long, which is impressive when you consider that most Amsterdam house are so narrow. We have 165 bridges, and 1,280 canals, on which there are 2,825 house boats. The character of the Amsterdam city centre is largely determined by numerous 17th and 18th century house, once owned by wealthy merchants and prominent citizens. Moreover, the warehouses deserve mention. Amsterdam warehouse architecture is unique in the world. The Dutch are great traders and for over 400 years the goods, and spices of the world were brought back to Amsterdam from all over the globe before being traded in Europe.

Amsterdam is of course popular with tourist, both those seeking culture. Amsterdam is the fifth busiest tourist destination in Europe, taking more than 4.2 million international visitors annually. The number of visitors has been growing steadily over the past two decades and they are catered for with some 41,743 beds in 19,400 rooms in 360 hotels.

If you are visiting the city please take the time to explore the links we have provided on the right side of the page. Travellers should pay attention to the Amsterdam City site in particular, it provides some excellent visitors information that can save the unwary from being ripped off in the lovely city. Crime in the city is low and the city is very safe, but you do have to be on your guard against pick pockets, and small time con artists as the city has attracted some enterprising Eastern Europeans in the last few years. If you are in the city as a sex tourist then make sure you only go to a licensed premises otherwise your health and that of the sex workers will be put at risk.

Museums In Amsterdam

The city is stuffed with museums, the most important museums of which are located on het Museumplein, on the southern side of the Rijksmuseum. The northern part of the square is bordered by the very large Rijksmuseum. In front of the Rijksmuseum on the square itself is a long, rectangular, pond which is turned into an ice rink during the winter. Around the museumplien can be found the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience and Coster Diamonds. The Concertgebouw is situated across this street from the square.

The Rijksmuseum possesses the largest and most important collection of classical Dutch art. From it’s opening in 1885 it has had an amazing collection and is worth allocating a couple of day to alone. The artist most associated with Amsterdam is Rembrandt, whose work, and the work of his pupils, is displayed in the Rijksmuseum. The museum also houses paintings from artists like Van der Helst, Vermeer (my favourite), Albert Cuijp, Van Ruysdael, Frans Hals, Ferdinand Bol, and Paulus Potter.

There is also the Van Gogh museum, a modern building in an area of old ones, and near to that is the Stedelijk Museum. This is Amsterdam’s largest museum concerning modern art and consists of works of art from artists like Karel Appel,  Kasimir Malewitsj and Piet Mondriaan, . Amsterdam contains many other museums throughout the city. They range from small museums such as the Verzetsmuseum, the Anne Frank House, the Rembrandthuis, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, and Joods Historisch Museum.

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Amsterdam 1200-1588: Early History

Amsterdam was founded as a fishing village around the thirteenth century. Amsterdam developed round a dam in the Amstel river at the end of the 12th century. The name Amstelledamme occurs for the first time in the toll concession of Floris V, Count of Holland, dated October 27, 1275. During the 14th, but especially the 15th century, Amsterdam underwent a rapid development, which laid the foundation for the Golden Age. Only very few medieval buildings survive today. Some examples: the Old and New Churches and the Houten Huis (Wooden House) at the Begijnhof. Throughout the Middle Ages houses were generally built of wood, a vulnerable type of construction material. The famous Houten Huis is no exception to this rule. Consequently, most of them were destroyed. Nevertheless, a surprisingly large number of Amsterdam dwellings still have timber frames.

Amsterdam In The 15th & 16th Centuries

During the 15th century Amsterdam became part of the powerful and large Dukedom of Burgundy, whose ruler was Duke Philip the Good. The duke had to fight to keep his lands together, with the main opposition coming from Holland and from Countess Jacoba of Bavaria who feared Burgundian encirclement. Various supporters chose sides, Amsterdam backed Duke Philip and his successors. Political unity of the Low Countries came in 1543. The man responsible was Charles V, the great-great-grandson of Philip the Good. The Low Countries covered the area of today’s Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Brussels was the capital. Amsterdam kept it’s importance from its status as a centre of commerce. The city imported grain from the Baltic states, furs, wood, and cod. The salt was used to preserve the cod that was imported from Portugal. This combined to make Amsterdam into a clearing-house where goods from from Europe, the Baltic and Scandinavia could be stored, processed and sold. In order to support the growing business community and international trade, Amsterdam developed a range of specialist trades and professions like map making, printing, insurance, and banking.

Amsterdam was not immune to the Reformation which raged through Europe. For a long while it remained a Catholic stronghold, but protestantism gradually took the upper hand, with religious rivalry actually putting a stop on the city’s growth between 1535 and 1578. Wars of religion stopped the unification of the Netherlands. Charles’s son Philip II, inherited the throne of Spain. King Philip of Spain sought to annihilate the reformation in the Netherlands. However many of the Dutch rebelled. because they wanted to keep their freedom and opposed the idea of religious persecution. Prince William of Orange became their national leader. Amsterdam sided with Spain and there was more war. A peace treaty with the rest of the province of Holland was signed in 1578, and within a few months a new city government was in place, made up of protestants and the allies of William of Orange. The Peace of Munster in 1648 put an end to the 80 year war.

Amsterdam In The 17th Century

The 17th century was boom-time for Amsterdam. Riches, power, culture and tolerance burgeoned in the city. The tendency for tolerance prevails even today, hence the very open approach to sex and drugs.

Amsterdam’s network of canals was set out in the 17th century. And along the canals which girdle the city, the citizens built houses taller than any seen in any other Dutch city centre. The city authorities encouraged this tall is prestigious idea to add to the glory of Amsterdam. Two massive places of worship were built in the first half of the century, the Zuiderkerk and Westerkerk respectively the South and West churches. The gothic city hall was destroyed by fire in 1652, and the present Dam Palace rose up on the same site. Dam Square, called De Plaetse in those days was expanded considerably. By 1700 the city boasted some 200,000 inhabitants. When there is good business culture then flourishes and. Poets and playwrights like Bredero, Vondel and P.C. Hooft created their immortal works. Rembrandt and his pupils had their ateliers here. And the philosophers Spinoza and Descartes, the fellow of “I think therefore I am” fame, fashioned new insights.

War with England prevented the arrival of a crucial merchant fleet from the Indies, bringing the city to the edge of bankruptcy. For those people at the lower end of the society this meant no work and they went hungry. It is though that the quip “The peasants are revolting, you can say that again“ started in Amsterdam at this time. War in the Baltic at the same further plunged the city into poverty. As the city lost its status as a trading city money started to play a greater role and the city became Europe’s financial and banking centre. The concept of shares was born in Amsterdam. Princes and people of power came here to borrow the funds to fill their war-chests, because wars have never come cheap.

Amsterdam In The 18th Century

Patriot movement fought for an end to the corruption of the regents. They targeted not only the regents, but also the House of Orange and the way the province of Holland and Amsterdam dominated the Republic. After their fight failed many of the Patriots fled to France and helped by French sympathizers and inspired by ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood, fueling the French Revolution. The Patriots returned and effectively took over the Dutch Republic in 1795. The city authorities of Amsterdam were ejected and replaced by provisional representatives of the people. These were the first experimental shoots of democracy. Later Napoleonic French influence turned into interference then dictatorship by the tyrant Napoleon.

Amsterdam has grown in a radial pattern outwards so that as you walk away from the Centraal station outwards you walk through the centuries of growth of the city.

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