Photo Tour of Amsterdam

Traditional Dutch houses

Alexander Spatari/Getty Images 

This is what typical building in Amsterdam looks like. What's it used for? Well, when it was built, the building was associated with the manufacture of cloth. How can you tell? Look at the drapery on top of the facade.

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South Church Zuiderkerk


Beth Hubbard 

Zuiderkerk, or the South Church, was Amsterdam's first Protestant church. It was built between 1603 and 1614. No longer functioning as a church, the Zuiderkerk houses a permanent exhibit on modern town planning in Amsterdam.

It is rumored that Rembrandt painted "The Night Watch" here, but that's a disputed claim--although Rembrandt lived and worked quite nearby and three of his children are buried in the 17th-century church.

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Amsterdam Picture: Entrance to Amsterdam's Leper Colony

Amsterdam Leper Colony picture
James Martin

Leprosy was probably introduced to Amsterdam by crusaders coming from the Middle East. Look closely and you'll see the rattle on the male figure.

"Every Wednesday they were allowed into town to beg for alms, but they had to wear a large black coat, a big hat with a white ribbon and they had to use the rattle constantly. It wasn't until the end of the 19th century, that this disease was banished from the Netherlands."

Also: "The plague was seen as the justified anger of God against mankind to punish them for their sinful way of life." Seems our beliefs haven't been changed all that much by our increasing knowledge of the world.

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The Narrowest House

Narrowest house

I amsterdam

Here is reported to be the narrowest house in Amsterdam. Why are Amsterdam houses so narrow? Well, sit down a spell with some young gin (jenever) and I'll tell you.

All structures in Amsterdam are built on pilings sunk deep into soft soil. They get added reinforcement by being built adjacent to one another, so each building "leans" on the others in a block. These pilings can be made of wood because the muck they sit in doesn't allow oxygen to break down the wood. Way back when, people used to put in their own pilings when building a house. Not everyone was good at it, nor did many have the resources to set big pilings very deep. So houses started to lean; then whole blocks started to lean.

So the government finally said "enough" and put in pilings themselves. They taxed residents to recoup the costs. The tax was based on how wide your house was.

So, of course, you built the narrowest, longest, highest house you could.

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The Waag, or Old Weighing House

The Waag (Old Weigh House) - Amsterdam, Holland

Boortz47/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

De Waag, or old weighing station, was originally a gate in a castle built in 1488, but became a weighing house in 1614. It's now a restaurant where you can get a fine pastry or coffee in the morning or a dinner at night. Dinner late at night is especially seductive because the place is lit by hundreds of candles in chandeliers.

But the exterior of the Waag is also interesting, as we'll see in the next picture.

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De Waag and the Bricklayer's Guild

De Waag

Boortz47/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

This section of the De Waag was used for some time as the bricklayer's guild hall. To become a master bricklayer, you had to demonstrate your skill--and what better way than to make an intricate window treatment right in the guild hall itself? Here are several nice windows in the Waag.

De Waag also housed the Theatrum Anatomicum, where student surgeons received anatomical lessons. You can see the inscription on the door near the restaurant entrance. Rembrandt painted "The Anatomical Lesson of Prof. Tulip" here in 1632

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House Plaques

House plaques


So how were houses identified in Amsterdam's medieval period? Well, you named them according to your name or profession, and then affixed a plaque with a design that identified that name to your house. Thus, if you couldn't read you needn't worry; you just found a house in the general area called "the crowned six-legged aardvark" or something and looked about half-way up on the gable to find the plaque. Many still exist up there.

It wasn't until Napoleon came along that numbers were used to identify houses in Amsterdam.

Here some of the plaques are preserved in an Amsterdam cloister near the Historical Museum. 47 of these plaques are preserved here by bricking them into a wall, and over 650 have been preserved this way in all of Amsterdam. Keep an eye out.

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