Amsterdam

Fortunately, my good friend, Rick works in Holland and as a result, I’ve visited Amsterdam several times over the last two years. During my latest trip, I stayed twelve miles to the west, in Haarlem.

Amsterdam was founded as a fishing village around the 13th century and got its name from the dam that was built on the river Amstel. From the 14th century trade flourished. The 16th century saw the reinstatement of religious freedom after the Dutch war of independence resulting in the settlement of many wealthy Jewish families. During the 17th century, the Dutch built an empire that stretched as far away as Indonesia and South Africa. Wars against England and France during the 18th and 19th centuries took their toll on the city and trade was lost to London though the Industrial Revolution did help to revive the city’s industries though never to previous heights.

Many of Amsterdam’s characteristic townhouses date back to the 17th century. The thin, tall, red-brick and gabled properties line the canals and were originally built for merchants. The richly ornamented gable tops come in many different styles such as stepped, neck, and bell-shaped. Anne Frank’s House is one such building and is now a museum that tells the horrific story of the Frank family going into hiding and the deportation of over 100,000 Jews from Amsterdam during the Second World War which almost completely wiped out the Jewish community.

The Royal Palace in the Dutch Classic style is probably Amsterdam’s most imposing building and was inspired by the public buildings of Rome. Construction began in 1648 and finished in 1665 to the designs of Jacob van Campen though the internal decoration continued well into the 18th century. It boasts large sculptured marble pediments and bronze statues. A yellowish sandstone from Germany was used for the entire building which has darkened to a colour similar to that of the grand buildings of, say, Glasgow. Every Dutch child is taught how 13,659 wooden poles were used for the foundations.

Over the years, Amsterdam has clearly evolved to cater for the wants and needs of its visitors. Brighton, on the other hand, is currently torn between the romantic (dirty) weekend and the undesirable stag night. As a destination for lovers, Brighton has been successful for nearly 250 years. What would the 18th century gentry have made of West Street on a Saturday night, I wonder?