Amsterdam: Historic Jewel of The Netherlands
Historic Jewel: Amsterdam is a city with humble beginnings. Built in an area prone to floods, there are reports of land reclamation taking place as early as the tenth century but no details of whether this was for farming or building.
The city was originally a fishing village and takes its name from the damming of the River Amstel following flooding in 1170 and 1173. A natural harbour was formed and trade vessels began to visit the growing town.
Amsterdam was granted city status in the early fourteenth century. Sadly there is little to be seen today of the early history of the city as fires in 1421 and 1452 destroyed most of the wooden houses. Only two remain which can be seen at the Begijnhof.
Trade and Wealth
Many of the buildings that can be visited today date from the seventeenth century. At this time Amsterdam was a centre of trade and commerce with its own bank and a stock exchange to meet the needs of wealthy merchants.
Three massive canals were added to the city and beautiful houses were built along their banks. However, buildings were taxed according to the width of the frontage so the canal houses are tall and skinny with grand gables and tiny gardens. Visit Museum Van Loon to see how the wealthy lived and then explore the construction of canals and houses at the Museum of the Canals.
In 1648 Jacob van Campen designed a grand City Hall. This imposing building became a royal residence in 1768, then home to Louis Bonaparte in 1806. Since 1936 it has been one of three royal palaces and is open to the public when they are not in residence.
Wealth and culture go together. The artist Rembrandt lived in the heart of Amsterdam from 1639 to 1658. The interior of his house has been reconstructed using artefacts from the time and contains 250 original prints.
From 1672 to 1795 the city prospered and the buildings from this period reflect this. There are a number of houses built for wealthy families that are open to the public. Of particular interest is the Amstlekring Museum, a seventeenth century home with a secret chapel in the attic large enough to seat 150 people.
The eighteenth century was a time of war. Fighting with both England and France ended with the area being absorbed into the French Empire. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands was not established until 1815.
Historic Jewel: The late nineteenth century was marked by the construction of two new canals which provided connections to the Rhine and the North Sea and a railway station to bring people into the centre of the city. The railway station is supported by 6000 wooden piles as this is the traditional building method in Amsterdam. Changes in water levels are affecting the piles causing some older buildings to lean so all new buildings are supported by concrete piles.
When Germany invaded in 1940, the people of Amsterdam hid Jewish families at great risk to themselves. Anne Frank’s house is a museum dedicated to one such family.
Today Amsterdam has over 100km of canals with 90 islands and 1200 bridges. Travel is by water bus, bicycle and the metro. Choosing the right accommodation can, however, put you within walking distance of many of the museums and houses. This doesn’t need to be an expensive option, Hostel Uptown is comfortable and ideally situated.