Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands. It restored much of its city’s historic district after the war and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One can explore the city in many ways including cars/taxis, public transportation, bikes, or the old fashion way….walking.
There is so much to see in the city. This blog talks about the sights and sounds of the Dam Square area. You can see our other Amsterdam blogs here.
Amsterdam Dam Square Area
We started our walk in Dam Square, which is the city’s main square. The city originally built a dam here to protect it from floods and to reverse the flow the river and canals to flush sewage out to sea. Today it is the city’s largest open square and the site of political events and demonstrations. It is now home to one of the National Monument, Royal Palace and New Church. A few other historic sites, such as the former orphanages and Beguine community are located near Dam Square.
- National Monument is a war memorial that commemorates the civilians killed in WWII. It is the site of an annual, citywide ceremony at which two minutes of silence is observed.
- Royal Palace is a 400-year-old building that today is the royal family’s official reception palace (they do not live here). It was built in the 17th century as a city hall atop more than 13,000 wooden piles. Its Neo-Classical structure was intended as a symbol of the city’s wealth (the wealthiest city in Northern Europe), global influence (a statue of Atlas is over the rear entrance) and its sea power (decorations of sea gods). It was once the largest administrative building in Europe. Louis Napoleon (Napoleon’s brother and the designated ruler of the city) enhanced and converted the building into a palace, which it has remained ever since. The building is open to tourists when the royals are not hosting an event. The elaborate Citizen’s Hall is lined in marble and statuary. Its marble floor is graced by two world maps and one celestial map, all executed in ivory and ebony. Other highlights included the Throne Room, Louis Bonaparte’s bedroom and the reception room, all decorated in French Empire style. The Tribunal room in which death sentences were handed down in its days as City Hall, is graced by a number of magnificent sculptures.
- New Church is the site of royal weddings and investitures (a ceremony that honors a person of rank). Originally it was built in 1400 and enhanced in the 1800s. The Gothic church has a rather plain exterior and no steeple (so as not to pull attention from the Palace). While we planned to visit, entry was only for an exhibit on Suriname, in which we were not interested and could not justify the price.
- The City Orphanage was created by a wealthy patron in the home of a former convent. It was opened to care for the children of destitute, widowed wives of sailors who lost their lives on voyages and of children orphaned by periodic fires, floods, and plagues. It provided great societal services and was a point of pride for a generous and enlightened city. Just being on the board, led by the city burghers, was a sign that you had arrived in Amsterdam society. Today it houses the city’s Historical Museum. One can see some of the original building’s student lockers in the courtyard in which boys from age 12 kept their trade’s tools. The lockers are now displays that explain the history of the orphanage.
- Beginhof is an almshouse founded in 1389 as the home of a religious order. The Beguines neighborhood was the home of single, Catholic, lay women. While they generally lived as nuns, they did not take vows and were free to marry. This area was one of the few in the city in which Catholic religious items were not confiscated. It contains the oldest remaining home in the city (1460), one of only two wooden houses that remain after fires that prompted the city to mandate that future buildings be brick.
- Interesting gable stones that businesses and people used to identify themselves in an age when few people could write. While few buildings still have their original stones, a foundation collects and refurbishes those that are still available and finds walls on which they can be displayed to the public.