Amsterdam (Amsterdam, former name: Amstelredamme, Hellenized name: Amstelodamon), is the capital and largest municipality in the Netherlands. It was founded in the late 12th century as a small fishing village on the banks of the Amstel River, from which it takes its name. Today it is the economic and cultural centre of the country. The municipality has an area of 219.33 km² and a population of 805,166 inhabitants (August 2013).
The city has a population of 790,044 and the greater metropolitan area has 2,289,762 inhabitants. It is located in the northern part of the greater Randstad area, one of the largest metropolitan areas in Europe.
Amsterdam has one of the largest historical centres in Europe, mainly from the 17th century, the Golden Age of the Netherlands, of which it was the focal point. During this period, a series of concentric semicircular canals, the famous hrahten (grachten) were built around the centre of the older city, which to this day define the layout and appearance of the centre. Along the canals are many beautiful houses and mansions; most are inhabited, others are now offices, and some are public buildings.
The city is known for many excellent museums, including the State Museum Rijksmuseum (Het Rijksmuseum), the Van Gogh Museum, the City Museum (Het Stedelijk Museum), the Anne Frank House, and its world-famous symphony orchestra, the Konzerthaus Orchestra, whose base is the Konzerthaus. Also well known is the ‘red light’ part of the city, the de Wallen, and the numerous ‘kofie-sops’.
Although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, it is neither the capital of the province to which it belongs, North Holland (of which Haarlem is the capital), nor the seat of government (which is The Hague).
Amsterdam holds the title of the city with the most nationalities in the world.
Amsterdam was founded around 1200, in a swampy area called Aemestelle at the mouth of the river Amstel. It was originally a fishermen’s settlement. The first permanent dwellings were built on artificial dikes high enough to provide protection from flooding. As the settlement expanded, there were increasing conflicts and rifts between the lords of Amstel and the comtes of Holland, who had the support of the powerful bishops of Utrecht. The conflicts continued into the next century.
During the 13th century it was decided to build the first large vertical dam at the mouth of the river Amstel. It was from the ‘damming’ of the Amstel River that the town took its name (Amstel(r)+dam). It is likely that part of Amstel as it is today was then dammed. This formed the basis on which the settlement was organised and expanded, with the end result that Amsterdam began to become a trading power. As well as that part of Amstel which, today, is known as Damrak, was the beginning of the port of Amsterdam. Recent excavations continue to provide new data and bring to light information about the beginnings of the city’s history.
The first written reference to Amsterdam is a document dated 27 October 1275, in which Count Floris the 5th grants tax exemption to the inhabitants. The exact date when Amsterdam obtained a Charter of Rights is not known, but it is likely that this occurred shortly after 1300, with a probable date of 1306. Soon after, the first tax on beer is mentioned! The contacts with Hamburg for trade in the drink were the springboard for the East Sea Trade (De Oostzeehandel), as international trade between the Hanseatic League states was then known. As early as the 15th century, Amsterdam was the most important trading city in the Netherlands.
Dam Square at the end of the 17th century: painting by Jan Burkheid (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)
Because, despite this, the city was built in a marshy area, drainage works continued unabated and, as the city expanded, the need to build the first grachten, the urban canals for which Amsterdam is now world-famous. Through the grachten, continuous and complete drainage was achieved, and the waste material from their construction was used to raise the ground and build houses. However, its soft nature (sand and peat) forced the houses to be supported on special structures made of wooden poles, which, with more advanced techniques, continues to this day.
The city then acquired a system of administration that was peculiar for the time. The great economic rise of the bourgeoisie created a faction of socially powerful citizens referred to as ‘fortschap’ (vroedschap). This group of citizens gained such power that they had the exclusive privilege of appointing the city’s administrators. And, as is almost always the case in these situations, when the city rose up against the Spanish in 1578, it showed great reluctance to participate. Only when its commercial interests were affected did it finally decide to acquiesce.
With the annexation of Antwerp to the Spanish in 1585, many of its inhabitants came to Amsterdam, transferring all their commercial activities there. Their arrival, together with that of the Portuguese Jews, played a very large part in what has gone down in history as the Golden Age (De Gouden Eeuw) of Amsterdam and the Netherlands.
It was then that Amsterdam gained a reputation as the most tolerant – religiously and otherwise – city in the world. Religious refugees from parts of the Netherlands still controlled by Spain, and Huguenots from France persecuted for their religion, sought safety in Amsterdam.
In the early 17th century Amsterdam was the richest city in Europe. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to North America, Africa and what is now Indonesia and Brazil, and set the basis for a global trade network. Amsterdam merchants had the largest share in the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company. These companies acquired the overseas possessions that became the basis of the later Dutch colonies. Amsterdam was the most important point for the transshipment of goods in Europe and was the leading financial centre of the world.
The city’s population grew dramatically. In 1570, Amsterdam had about 30,000 inhabitants. In 1622 it reached 100,000 and, by the end of the 17th century, 200,000. Only London, Paris and Naples had a similar number of inhabitants at that time. It was precisely at that time that the city’s boundaries were greatly enlarged, resulting in what the visitor sees today. A huge network of concentric semicircular canals, called the ‘Grachtengordel’ (De Grachtengordel). On the banks of the canals and, depending on the area of the city, there are beautiful and expensive branded houses, which belonged to the big merchants and businessmen of that time. Today, most of them are included in the city’s list of listed monuments (rijksmonumenten).
Towards the end of the 17th century, the city’s development experienced a gradual decline. In 1683 building activity came to a halt. On the east bank of the river Amstel there was so much space available that plots of land were given to charitable organisations and the -nowadays- Plantage was used as a promenade. The wars with the United Kingdom and France had a direct impact on Amsterdam. During the Napoleonic wars, the property of the inhabitants of Amsterdam was considerably reduced. From the middle of the 18th century, the population gradually began to decline, reaching its lowest point in 1815 at around 140,000 inhabitants.
During the 19th century, there was a period of recovery. The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal gave Amsterdam direct access to the Rhine, and in 1825 the North Holland Canal (Het Noordhollandsch Kanaal) connected the city with Den Helder. Also in 1839, the first railway line in the Netherlands was built, connecting Amsterdam with Haarlem. Finally, from 1876 the North Sea Canal (Het Noordzeekanaal) was the direct connection between the port of Amsterdam and the mobile locks (sluizen) at IJmuiden and from there a passage to the North Sea. From 1850 the city began to expand outside the boundary of the Singelgracht canal, which had been there since the 17th century.
At the end of the 19th century, with the Industrial Revolution, a new period of expansion began in the famous “Hrachten Belt”. Trade was revived, new industries were created and the population doubled. From 250,000 in 1850, it grew to almost 510,000 in 1900. The social upheavals brought about by the Industrial Revolution made Amsterdam the centre of Dutch social democracy and led to large-scale expansion (South Plan, West Plan, etc.). Poor living conditions for low-paid workers led to the Yordaan district (Het Jordaanoproer) riots, in which seven people died.
During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral, but Amsterdam suffered due to food shortages.
During World War II, German troops occupied the city and about 110,000 inhabitants died. Of the massive Jewish community, most of it, about 75,000 people did not survive the German occupation. The Dutch wave of resistance was one of the most impressive in Europe. Resistance groups such as the Free Netherlands (Vrij Nederland) were formed, as well as artistic movements with Gerrit van der Veen. Stories about the Jews of Amsterdam during this harsh period have made the rounds, the most famous of which concerns a young girl, Anna Frank, and her famous diary.
After the war, the history of Amsterdam has been about events that, as a main theme, had as their central theme the acute housing problem that, even today, still troubles the municipal authorities. At first, the General Urban Expansion Plan (Het Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan) was implemented which, as its name suggests, created new large districts in the west and south of the city. The northern part was also extended and, in the 1960s, an extensive metro network was created.
This and the following decade was also marked by several events such as the riots during the wedding of Princess Beatrice in March 1966 and those of the New Market (Nieuwmarktrellen) in 1975. On the weekend of 13-15 June 1966, Amsterdam experienced labour unrest. The riots were triggered by the death of a construction protester who was run over by a police vehicle, followed by a strike and a protest march. The riots took on greater proportions after Dutch anarchist ‘provos’ entered the scene and, when they finally retreated, left 81 civilians and 28 police officers injured.
In May 1977, a fire that broke out in the ‘Poland’ hotel killed 33 people. In 1980, serious riots broke out, again involving the royal family during the enthronement of Beatrice. Under the slogan ‘no house, (then) no coronation’ (‘Geen woning, geen kroning’), thousands of demonstrators set fire to the Rockin district. The ensuing clashes resulted in 400 people being injured.
In the 1980s, many young people with higher education came to the city, mainly seeking work in the service sector. This further exacerbated the problem of finding housing. Furthermore, the hotel and catering sector (horeca) developed strongly, with the arrival of immigrants from other countries (including Greece). Since 1984, and after a long time, the population of the city has also experienced a new growth.
1992 was marked by the major plane crash in the Bijlmermeer district, when an Israeli passenger plane, after taking off from Schiphol, lost two engines and crashed into an apartment building. 43 people lost their lives and there is a memorial at the crash site today.
Today, intensive efforts are continuing to build new housing in areas that, a few years ago, were open spaces. In essence, the challenge for the authorities is to strike a balance between the acute housing problem and the – traditionally Dutch – respect for the environment.
Amsterdam is located in the north-northwestern part of central Netherlands, right on the western cove of the IJ-Meer, which is part of the larger enclosed Marker Sea (Markermeer). The city is located on the confluence of the Amstel and the Ai rivers. The town is connected via the North Sea Canal (het Noordzeekanaal) to the North Sea at the town of Aimunden (IJmuiden).
The main city stands on 90 “islands” (note: essentially islands artificially created by the Hrachten) and counts 1539 bridges of which 252 in the centre. Amsterdam’s altitude is only 2 metres above sea level. The city is built on a perfectly flat area, some parts of which have been created entirely through polder construction, such as the Haarlemmermeer (de Haarlemmermeer) and the Beemster (de Beemster).
Amsterdam is located in an area with a mild oceanic climate, where meteorological phenomena are directly influenced by the westward North Sea and the north-westerly winds blowing from it, sometimes gale-force winds. Winter temperatures are also relatively mild, usually above freezing. However, frost is not uncommon, especially when there are gusts of easterly or north-easterly winds from the European mainland, especially from Scandinavia, Russia or even Siberia. Summers are also mild, usually hot, and heat waves are very rare.
There are days with high precipitation, but not more than 850 mm per year. The most common precipitation is continuous drizzle (motregen), or simple rain. However, when strong westerly winds blow, the amount of rain can rise so high that special pumps are set in operation around the city and the excess water is drained to the sea or higher ground. Of course, the presence of abundant water in the soil basins is responsible for the occurrence of abundant clouds and humidity, particularly in the months from October to March.
The average temperature in degrees C and the average value of atmospheric precipitation in millimetres are as follows (meteorological data from Schiphol Airport, 2010):
General picture of the city
Aerial view of the historic centre of Amsterdam, with the Hrachten Belt and the River Ai separating the southern and northern parts of the city
The River Ai (Het IJ) is the dividing point between the historic centre and the northern districts of Amsterdam. The historic centre is located south of the river and, in particular, south of the Central Railway Station. The oldest part of the centre is the de Wallen, which is nowadays identified with the ‘red district’. Radially, the beautiful crescent-shaped hrahten spread out in a crescent shape. The belt they form (de grachtengordel) was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in August 2010.
Surrounding the zone are Amsterdam’s oldest working-class districts, De Jordaan (De Jordaan) and De Pijp (De Pijp). The historic centre ends at the distinctive sites of Museum Square (Het Museumplein), Het Vondelpark (Het Vondelpark) and Plantagebuurt (De Plantagebuurt) with the Artis Zoo (De Dierentuin Artis).
In the 1920s, the expressionism of the Amsterdam School took over to adorn the city. The most representative example of the school is undoubtedly the Schoenstatt School (Het Scheepvaarthuis). Also the Dageraad (De Dageraad) and several bridges. In the 1930s, the General Urban Expansion Plan (Het Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan) by the pioneer Cornelis van Eesteren (Cornelis van Eesteren) gave new sections to the west and south of the city, with the characteristic ring pattern in their form, resulting from the alternation of residential and green areas.
North of the River Ai is Amsterdam-Noord, with several polder districts, which contrast with the cosmopolitan character of the historic centre. Just at the rear entrance of the Central Station there is a ferry departure pier with free passenger transport to it. But also underwater tunnels connect the two banks of the river.
Amsterdam has 400,000 trees and plenty of parks. To the southwest is the Amsterdam Forest (Het Amsterdamse Bos), with an area of about 1000 hectares.
Amsterdam is a truly multi-ethnic society. It is noteworthy that at the beginning of 2012, there were fewer indigenous people than non-indigenous people. Specifically, Dutch residents made up 49.5% of the city’s population (79.42% in the whole of the Netherlands), compared to 50.5% of foreigners (20.58% in the whole of the Netherlands). In 2007 there were people of 177 nationalities (!) living in the city, the most in the world. The top 5 in population order were: Moroccans, Turks, British, Surinamese and Germans.
The arrival of so many foreigners in the city is easily explained by looking back in time. The great tolerance – mainly religious – was the main reason, especially during the difficult times of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
The Amsterdam Chinatown
In Amsterdam, French (Huguenots), Flemish (Protestants), Jews and Brabant inhabitants, persecuted for their religious beliefs in their homelands, found refuge. Later, those who came to the city for business reasons were added. The first ‘immigrants’ are considered to be those who came from Frisia, Germany and Scandinavia. In fact, the Germans were the most numerous group from the 15th to the 19th century.
When China became a republic in 1911, many Chinese came to work in Amsterdam, mainly as naval crews. They stayed in one area of the city, where they were the vast majority. This district was named Amsterdam Chinatown (De Amsterdamse Chinatown) to distinguish it from its counterparts in other countries. During World War II, most of the city’s Chinese worked in Chinese restaurants.
Since 1960, a massive influx of mainly unskilled workers (gastarbeiders) began to arrive in the city. With the independence of Suriname in 1975, thousands of Surinamese came to settle in Bijlmermeer (De Bijlmermeer). But apart from foreigners, Amsterdam also received the arrival of thousands of Dutch people, who came to the city for various reasons. Finally, there was also a reverse movement of many Amsterdam residents to other – usually smaller – cities, in order to avoid the phenomenon of urbanisation, retirement and so on.
In 2000, 56% of Amsterdam residents stated that they did not follow a religious denomination or belong to a church community. For the remaining percentage, the dominant religions were Christianity with 17% and Muslimism with 14%. A survey by the Amsterdam Research and Statistics Office showed that, after a few years, the dominant religion will be Muslimism, due to the continuing increase in the population of people from Morocco and Turkey.
In 1578, relatively late, Amsterdam renounced Catholicism and joined the other Dutch cities in the fight against the Spanish. The churches and chapels passed into Protestant hands, while Catholics sought refuge in church hiding places, or left the city. In the late 16th and throughout the 17th century, immigrants with their own religious beliefs arrived, such as Sephardic Jews, French Huguenots and Protestants from South Holland. In the 20th century, there was a massive influx of Jews, most of whom died in German concentration camps.
In recent years, due to the arrival of immigrants from many different countries, the doctrines of Buddhism and Hinduism began to develop.
Amsterdam has a great many museums, more than 80, including those housed in the city’s churches. Some of them are among the most important in the world while, many are located in the Museum Square (Het Museumplein) and are under constant renovation.
The Amsterdam State Museum (Het Rijksmuseum Amsterdam): the largest and most important museum in the city. It is a beautiful building and is one of the 100 Dutch UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is located in the Museum Square. In its 200 (!) rooms are exhibited works mainly related to the history and art of the Netherlands. A large part of the approximately 1,000,000 works in the museum’s collections belong to the 17th century. The main building was being renovated for many months and, reopened to the public in April 2013.
The collections of the State Museum are divided into 3 major categories: visual arts (painting, sculpture, ceramics, stained glass, Asian arts, etc.), history and miscellaneous (drawings, photographs, etc.).
In the field of painting, special mention is made of the works of the great Dutch masters of the 17th century ( 17e-eeuwse Hollandse Meesters), with the greatest names being those of Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals, Johannes Fermier, Jacob van Raussdel and Jan Stein. The leading paintings are Rembrandt’s Night Patrol (De Nachtwacht) and Fermière’s The Milk Girl (Het Meilkmeisje).
The City Museum (Het Stedelijk Museum): located in the Museum Square, it is oriented towards 19th (late) and 20th century art and contemporary art. It was founded in 1874 and is built in a neo-Renaissance style. It includes around 90,000 works with peaks by Cézanne, Rodin, Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian and Warhol.
The Van Gogh Museum (Dutch pronunciation Van Gogh) (Het Van Gogh Museum): is the most important museum in the world with reference to the great painter. It is also located in the Museum Square and was founded in 1964, but finished in 1969, and only opened to the public in 1973. A new wing was added in 1999.
It includes around 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters by Van Gogh, as well as a library of 23,000 works. Contrary to popular belief, the museum also exhibits individual works by other great painters such as Monet, Gauguin, Picasso, Serra and Toulouse-Lautrec.
In December 2002, two paintings by Van Gogh were stolen. Two suspects were arrested in 2003, but the paintings have not yet been found (2012).
The Museum of the Tropics
The Museum of the Tropics (Het Tropenmuseum): this is an ethnological museum with reference to the peoples of the tropics – and beyond. It contains both traditional and modern art objects from various cultures, such as Indonesia, New Guinea, Suriname, etc. Also on display are audio and film documents as well as photographs of their history and way of life.
The Amsterdam Museum (Het Amsterdam Museum): until 2010 it was called the Historical Museum of Amsterdam and refers to the past and present of the city of Amsterdam in particular. It was founded in 1926 and, located in the historic city centre, where it was moved from another district in 1975. Its collections include about 75,000 objects, mainly paintings, statues, lithographs, lithographs, graphite prints, drawings, books, glass, textiles, ceramics, machinery, furniture, etc.
The Jewish Historical Museum (Het Joods Historisch Museum): founded in 1932, it contains about 11,000 works of art, traditional and historical objects that shed light on Jewish culture. The collection was larger, but during World War II, the museum was closed and many items were confiscated and never returned.
The Rembrandthuis (Het Rembrandthuis): this is the house where the great painter stayed between 1639 and 1658. It houses the museum of the same name, where Rembrandt’s drawings and everyday objects are on display.
The Anne Frank House (Het Anne Frank Huis): a building dating from 1635, it was used as a residence by other prominent citizens of Amsterdam. Between 1928 and 1939, it housed a piano-making industry. Since 1940 it has been occupied by Otto Frank and his family. The story of his daughter Anna and her diary is the dominant element of this house, which is one of the most visited and photographed places in Amsterdam.
The Tussauds Museum (Madame Tussauds): one of the -smaller- wax museums of the same name as the, large in London, wax museum. It does not have the glamour of the museum in the British capital, but it is well visited.
The Resistance Museum (Het Verzetsmuseum Amsterdam): established in 1984, it contains original artefacts, photographs, film and audio documents from the history of all those who took part in the Resistance against the Germans in World War II.
The Old Church
The Old Church (De Oude Kerk): is the oldest church in Amsterdam and the oldest surviving building in the city. It was built in 1306 and, at first, was called St. Nicholas. It is Protestant and in its history there have been many extensions. It has an impressive organ and is one of Amsterdam’s top 100 Heritage Sites (Rijksmonumenten).
The New Church (De Nieuwe Kerk): located in the historic city centre, on Dam Square (Dam), next to the Royal Palace. It was built at the beginning of the 15th century and is in neo-Gothic style. It was used as a place of secular ritual for royal coronations, including that of Beatrice in 1980. Today it is no longer used as a church, but only for various events, such as musical performances, as it has an excellent organ.
St Nicholas (Sint-Nicolaaskerk): Roman Catholic basilica, built between 1884 and 1887. The entrance is dominated by its two towers built in a particular style, which are not perfectly symmetrical (the western one leans more towards the front). Conservation work was carried out in 1999.
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace (Het Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam): located in the historic city centre, on Dam Square (Dam). It was built between 1648 and 1665 as a town hall, designed by Jacob van Campen. It was the most important historical and cultural building of the Golden Age and is one of Amsterdam’s 100 most important heritage sites.
It was, at the time, the largest non-religious building in the Old World. The monumental structure, which cost 8.5 million hulden (gulden), an incredibly large sum for the 17th century, symbolised the free spirit of the city (Vrijzinnigheid). The building was supported on 13,659 wooden piles (heipalen) and the main building material is Bedheim sandstone, while the interior is dominated by marble. It is described as ‘austere in its decoration but glamorous in its design’. It has an entrance with Corinthian decoration, 2 floors and a monumental central hall, approximately 40 metres long, 30 metres high and 20 metres wide.
Its use changed in 1808, when it was used by Napoleon Bonaparte as a royal residence and remained so for a long time after its return to Dutch hands. In the 20th century many conservation works were carried out and, since 1960, it has been open to the public. Between 2005 and 2009 it was closed again because extensive maintenance work was carried out inside. Today, it is not used as a royal residence, but it houses all visits of the royal members to Amsterdam, as well as all festive or anniversary events related to the Dutch ‘blue bloods’.
The Stopera (De Stopera): located in the centre of Amsterdam between Waterloo Square and the Zvanenbuerkwal on the river Amstel. Its name comes from the combination of the words Stadhuis (stadhuis) and Opera (opera). It houses the City Hall (Stadhuis) and the Amsterdam Music Theatre (Het Muziektheater), namely the Opera (De Nederlandse Opera), the Ballet (Het Nationale Ballet) and the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra (De Holland Symfonia). It was built between 1982 and 1986.
De Berlage: an impressive building in Damrak, built between 1898 and 1903, designed by the architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage, hence its name. Its main building material is red brick and it has three floors, a glass roof and a 40-metre-high tower at the entrance.
It was built to house and serve the economic activities of Amsterdam’s merchants and citizens, but its role was multiple: a stock exchange, a goods exchange (mainly for merchants), a post office, a telephone exchange, a police station, a conference hall, a cultural centre, were some of its functions.
Today it is used as an exhibition, conference and concert venue. It is on the list of the 100 most important Dutch Heritage Sites (Rijksmonumenten).
The Magna Plaza: located behind the Royal Palace in Dam Square. Formerly the Amsterdam Central Post Office (Het Amsterdamse Hoofdpostkantoor), it is now a high-end shopping centre. It was built between 1895 and 1899 to designs by the renowned architect and historian Cornelis Hendrik Peters. It incorporates the Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles, architecturally. It is on the list of the 100 most important Dutch Heritage Sites (Rijksmonumenten).
The Schoenstatt Plan
The Scheepvaarthuis (Het Scheepvaarthuis): a massive building dominating the Prince Henry Waterfront (de Prins Hendrikkade). Its name could be loosely translated as, ‘The House of Shipping’ and is due to the fact that it was built in 1916 to house the offices of 6 large shipping companies. Architecturally, it is the epitome of the Amsterdam School. It has passed through the hands of various tycoons and, since 2005, has been used as a 5-star hotel. It is included in the list of the 100 most important Dutch Heritage Sites (Rijksmonumenten).
The Central Station Building (Het Centraal Station): located on the River Ey, it is the dividing point between the historic centre and the northern districts. It was built between 1881 and 1889 to designs by the famous Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers, on 3 artificial islands on the Ey. This was made possible by transporting sand from the Velsen dunes and, due to the nature of the material, 8687 wooden piles were used. Nevertheless, many sinkholes occurred during construction and the project was very late in being completed.
It has a cast-iron dome with an opening of about 40 metres and an impressive Neo-Renaissance entrance. Since 1997 it has been under constant maintenance work, which has resulted in many sections being closed for several weeks.The ‘Red Quarter’
The ‘Red Quarter’
(De Rosse Buurt/De Wallen of De Walletjes) is a ‘special’ area in the centre of Amsterdam, and one of the city’s busiest tourist destinations. It is a labyrinthine set of small and narrow streets in the historic centre, characterised by the low red lighting of the buildings, hence its ‘international’ name. In Dutch it means ‘the area with the small walls or small wall docks’ (Walletjes), to emphasise its history.
As early as 1385, small brick structures (Wallen) had begun to surround the area’s hrahten. The area was originally a religious centre, since from 1578 onwards, a few monastic communities (Kloosters) began to be built in sufficient numbers. It is no coincidence that Amsterdam’s oldest church (Oude Kerk) is located in the centre of the zone. Nevertheless, from the 16th century onwards, the first brothels began to appear in the Oudezijde (Oudezijde=Old Side) area. From the 19th century onwards, especially in the 1920s, they were systematically demolished, but the phenomenon of ‘street’ prostitution emerged. The first shop windows appeared in the 1930s and were finally established by the 1960s.
The zone, which includes about 300 lodges (large rooms in essence), covers about 6,500 square metres and is surrounded by hrahten. The lodges are rented by the workers in this area where they offer their services. What is the notable difference, however, is that they are ‘exposed’ to public view behind a large glass showcase (‘showcase’) with red lighting. The Dutch name for this type of prostitution is raamprostitutie, which literally means ‘window/showcase prostitution’.
Contrary to what is believed, the area is the centre of the city’s “market love”, but it is also a place where systematic efforts are made to eliminate the aesthetics of the vulgar by respecting the identity of working women and, always with the contribution and respect of Dutch law (prostitution in the “red zone” is perfectly legal). There are both written and ‘unwritten’ laws that should not be broken for the sake of ‘spectacle’ (e.g. photographing prostituted women is a provocation and should be avoided).
Nevertheless, the area is full of businesses related to this sector, such as sex shops, theatres, etc., which, together with the famous coffeeshops and, despite the tolerance of Dutch law (gedoogbeleid), are often a source of delinquency and crime. Since 2007, Project 1012 (Het Coalitieproject 1012) has been in place to combat crime and improve the economic development of the area.
Emblem of Amsterdam
The coat of arms (Het Wapen) of Amsterdam consists of 3 crosses of St. Andrew and is found on both the coat of arms (Heraldiek) and the city flag (Vlag). On the coat of arms it is in a vertical position, while on the flag it is in a horizontal position. Historians believe that it was the coat of arms of the Persijn family, who ruled the city from 1280 to 1282. The crosses are thought to represent the three dangers that had traditionally afflicted the city: flood, fire and plague. The 3 words at the bottom, “Heroic (Heldhaftig), Decisive (Vastberaden), Merciful (Barmhartig)”, were placed by Queen Wilhelmina in 1947 in recognition of the bravery shown by the city during World War II.
Amsterdam has been the capital of the Netherlands since its time in the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte’s French, specifically since 20 April 1808, when an official parade was held in the city. In fact, in 1908, Amsterdam’s centenary was celebrated with a week-long celebration. In contrast, in 2008, the anniversary was not given much attention.
Nevertheless, constitutionally, Amsterdam has only been the capital of the country since 1983, with a special corrective amendment to the Dutch constitution. And, of course, the seat of government as well as the parliament are located in The Hague (Den Haag).
The municipality of Amsterdam (Gemeente Amsterdam), since 1 May 2010, is divided into 7 urban districts (stadsdelen), named after their geographical location: Centre (Centrum), North (Noord), South-East (Zuidoost), West (West), New-West (Nieuw West), South (Zuid) and East (Oost). Before 2010, there were 14 districts, of which three remained as they were, while the rest were merged into four new ones. There is one more district, Westpoort, which does not have its own structure but is directly administered by the Dutch government.
They are organised as separate tiny municipalities and retain a significant degree of autonomy. Their organization and administration is completely innovative and, the nomenclature used is not similar to that of other European cities. There is, of course, some correspondence, but their jurisdictions have to do with the central model of administration, which is often complex and distinctly ‘Dutch’.
Their creation is due to the need to serve the large demands that a large city has. With this division, each district takes on its own responsibilities. Their administrative structure is invariable (the exception being the central election of the “mayor”), with that of the other Dutch municipalities: there is the Council (Stadsdeelraad) and the Daily Management (Dagelijks Bestuur) with the legislators (Wethouders) and a Head of the Seat (“mayor”), (DB Voorzitter of “Burgemeester”), appointed by the Council of State (De Raad). They exercise both legislative and executive power in their territory. Their jurisdiction extends to all those areas where the Dutch State considers that there is no need for central intervention. The creation of housing, the management of open spaces (parks, recreational areas, parking, etc.), cultural matters, sport, various events and the management of citizens’ affairs are some of the areas that fall within their remit. On the other hand, the central administration takes on areas such as public order and the so-called A-Taken tasks.
However, this model of administration is in a constant dynamic state, i.e. it changes from time to time in an attempt to improve the services provided. Already in Rotterdam, which applies the same model, major changes have been proposed for the future.
Amsterdam has two universities: The University of Amsterdam (De Universiteit van Amsterdam) or (UvA), with about 28,000 students, and the Freie Universiteit (Vrije Universiteit) or (VU), with about 19,000 students. The former is located in the main city, while the latter is located in the Buitenveldert district (Buitenveldert).
Other institutions of higher education (HBOs) include the Gerrit Rietveld Academy (De Gerrit Rietveld Academie), specialising in Fine Arts, Textiles, Graphic Design, Fashion, etc., the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (De Hogeschool van Amsterdam), specialising in Physical Education, Nutrition, Economics, Health, Media, etc, the Amsterdam Hogeschool for Economic Studies (Hogeschool voor Economische Studies Amsterdam) and the Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten (Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten), which includes the Sweelinck Conservatorium (Sweelinck Conservatorium). The Amsterdam International Institute of Social History is one of the world’s largest institutions for documenting and researching social history, and in particular the history of the labour movement.
The Amsterdam Central Station building
Public transport in Amsterdam is provided by:
national and international rail connections
3 metro lines
2 urban railway lines
16 tram lines
several bus lines (local, regional and national)
pedestrian and cycle ferry (free of charge)
a fast dolphin boat to Felsen-Zawd on the North Sea coast
A new railway line, the North/South Line (Noord/Zuidlijn), and a new tram line to Aburg (a new urban area on a man-made island) are under construction.
Many Amsterdam residents use bicycles for their commuting. Most main roads have cycle lanes and, throughout the city, there are thousands of parking spaces for bicycles. In the city centre, driving a car is considered unprofitable due to heavy traffic and limited and expensive parking spaces.
Schiphol Amsterdam Airport (Schiphol) is about twenty minutes by train from central Amsterdam. It is the largest airport in the Netherlands, and the fourth largest in Europe. It serves around 40 million passengers annually and is the headquarters of Royal Netherlands Airways (KLM).
Amsterdam airport taxi will cost you about 4o euro to get in the center od Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the home of Ajax, a team of the Dutch Football Association. Ajax’s base is the modern Amsterdam Arena stadium, located southeast of the city. The team shares the facilities with the Amsterdam Antmirals, a baseball team.
In 1928, Amsterdam hosted the 9th Olympic Games. The Olympic stadium built for the games has undergone a complete renovation and is now used for cultural and sporting events.
Koninginnedag, Queen’s Day, 30 April, the birthday of former Queen Juliana
Outmarket, last weekend in August, start of the cultural season
Amsterdam Roots, last week of June. International music festival.
Amsterdam Pride, mid-August, gay pride weekend
Amsterdam Marathon, mid-October
Karel Appel – painter
Anna Frank – Holocaust diarist
Theo van Hoh – film director
Simon Carmichelt – writer and chronicler
Multatuli – writer
Johann Krohif – footballer
Dennis Bergkamp – footballer
Hermann Brod – singer and painter
Maid Hobema – painter
Fritz Bolkestein – politician
Freddie Heineken – beer magnate
Rembrandt van Rijn – painter
Rud Gullit – footballer
Frank Reikard – footballer
Harry Mullis – author
Baruch Spinoza – philosopher
Joseph Israels – painter
Wim Kok – former Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Andre Hazes – singer
Rumer Fischer – writer