Touring The Old City Centre of Amsterdam

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Daneel Bouden

We’ve made quite a few pages about the city’s history already, but this one is about sightseeing; I don’t think we can get away without it.

So question? What exactly is the old city? And what’s left that’s interesting to see there. Well, here’s a small, ancient map of the area.

The most prominent and well-known aspect is the red light district. It’s right smack in the middle. Don’t worry if you have kids or a girlfriend or wife who won’t appreciate you touring that area.

It’s extremely touristy, and besides sex, there isn’t much to see.

The old church, the oldest church in Amsterdam, dates back to the 13 century. It is not only the oldest church; it’s also the oldest building in the city.

It is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, aka Santa Claus. It’s situated on a square, and some storefronts on that square have prostitutes working in them.

The last city government tried to have them evicted but unsuccessfully. It’s located on the Oudekerksplein on the outskirts of the red light district. It still functions as a church but is also used as a concert hall, exhibition centre and wedding location.

Rembrandt noticed his intent to marry his wife Saskia there, and many prominent deceased citizens of this city found their last resting place underneath its floor.

The Waag

This is another old landmark, a colossal construction on a square called Nieuwmarkt, meaning a new market.

The old church is on the edge of the Red Light District, the other edge. It’s only a 10-minute walk from one to the other, but it will take you right through, guess what? Prostitute alley.

The word Waag translates into English as weighs, scales, weigh scale. It’s where wares were weighed in the olden days.

It was also a part of the city defences; it was a city gate called the Saint Antonius gate built in 1477. These days houses an uptown restaurant.

Dam Square

The Dam Square is the most famous square the Netherlands has to offer. Indeed it can be seen as the heart of the nation.

It hosts a royal palace, the new church and what we call “the national monument.” Although it was recently renovated, the palace mostly plays a ceremonial role and now has living quarters that took it into the 21st century.

The palace is usually open to the public. On the right of the palace, we see the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). It no longer functions as a house of worship; it’s become an exhibition hall.

The structure was built in stages between 1408 and 1540. It is the place where royal weddings and coronation ceremonies take place.

The National Monument stands directly opposite the royal palace. Dam square is cut into by het Damrak and het Rokin; those are the street names that divide it.

On one side are the palace and the church, and the monument on the other. It is a memorial of remembrance to those who fell in the second world war.

Foreign dignitaries lay wreaths there on state visits, and every path of May, the queen visits the place together with a host of other dignitaries who also all lay wreaths there.

The path of May is The Netherlands official day of remembrance.

Madame Tussauds is another place on Dam Square you may wish to visit, or Peek & Cloppenburg (P&C;) if you want to shop.

They are right next to each other on the southwest side of the square.

De munt (mint) tower

This is another old city gate; it was called The Regulars Gate, one of the three main gates in the middle ages.

The other ones are the Saint Anthony’s Gate (de Waag) we mentioned above, and the Haarlemmer gate, which no longer exists.

The original gate had two towers and was built between 1480 and 1487. It was destroyed in a fire in 1651, and it was decided that only one tower would be rebuilt, not 2.

The tower got its name from the adjacent building used as the state mint during the 17th century. The tower’s carillon consists of 38 bells. Every Saturday afternoon between 2-3 the towers, the main musician treats the city to a concert.

It is a short walk from the tower to Rembrandt Square, and the flower market starts right around the corner.

And then there is, of course, the Kalverstraat, the nation’s most famous shopping street. It’s filled with boutiques and department stores and leads you straight to Dam Square.

How do you know which street that is? Just look for the one with the most people in it.

Het Begijnhof

One of the city’s most obscure places is The Begijnhof; the court was originally designed to house religious single women who had not wanted to join a catholic convent yet still wanted to live a pious life.

They took vows of celibacy but were allowed to marry and have worldly possessions such as money and real estate. The most famous building in it is the restored wooden house dating back to the middle ages.

There are only two of them left in the city; this is one of them. The courtyard is an oasis of peace in the middle of this bustling city; the ground level in the court is 1 meter below that of the rest of the city because it dates to 1389.

The court also houses two churches: one catholic and one Dutch reformed.