Amsterdam, die grote stad,
is gebouwd op palen.
als die stad eens ommeviel,
wie zou dat betalen?
Amsterdam, the big city,
it was built on piles.
if this city would fall over,
who would pay for that?
A popular nursery rhyme
that I learnt growing up as an
. Although the chances for Amsterdam to tumble
over are pretty slim, it is true that almost every building in the city
is supported by piles
to stop them from sinking in the muddy
soil. For instance, the Beurs van Berlage
; the old stock exchange
building designed by the famous architect Hendrik Peter Berlage
supported on almost 5000 piles. Many buildings and houses along the
still have their centuries-old wooden pile
foundations. It is a very costly operation to have these piles replaced
by modern ones.
Speaking of the canals (gracht, pl.:grachten), that is
of course what Amsterdam is famous for (see also Amsterdam
Canals). The four major canals go in wide semicircles around the Dam
(or Dam Square), forming the city center. Historically, they were
created in several waves of city expansion spanning a few centuries.
Amsterdam was formed at the end of the 12th century. It
was a small settlement around a dam in the river Amstel (hence the
origin of the name Amstelodamum, Amstelredam) at the
current location of the Dam Square. Amsterdam received its city
rights in 1300 or 1306 (exact date unknown).
The first serious urban expansions were in the 14th,
and especially the 15th century. Most of the houses from this
period were made of wood. There are still two houses remaining; a house
on the Begijnhof (1425), and one on the Zeedijk (1550). However,
many houses still have their original wooden frames. Larger buildings
from this period were made of stone, such as the Oude Kerk (Old Church)
and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). The entire city was surrounded by a
wall, and a canal (nowadays at the location of the Singel). There are
a few structures (gates and towers) remaining from this period: de
Waag, Schreierstoren, the lower part of the Munttoren.
The most important period of growth for the city was the Gouden
Eeuw (Golden Age), from 1585 (marked by the siege of Antwerp)
until 1672 (French occupation). The city expanded drastically, and in
order to accommodate the influx of rich merchants, the city limits marked
by the Singel were expanded with extra canals (first the Herengracht
then the Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht). You can find many
nice houses from this period along the canals. Also,
the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace, originally the Town Hall) on
the Dam was built in this period.
The period from 1672-1795 was a period of economic recession for
the Republic. France occupies the country for a short period in 1672,
but after their retreat, Amsterdam remains neutral in the various wars
that surround the republic. As a result, the city maintained its leading
role in world trade.
In 1795, the French again occupy the country, and the occupation
lasts until 1813. In this period, the economic recession leads to a
population drop, and neglect of many historic buildings.
From 1813 until 1940, the city recuperates from the French
occupation. The industrial revolution leads to an increasing wealth
and population growth (referred to as the nieuwe Gouden Eeuw, the new
Golden Age). In this period, the city starts expanding rapidly
outside the limit of the canals.
From 1940 until 1945, Germany occupies the country,
but fortunately Amsterdam is spared from serious bombings like they
occurred in Rotterdam.
Coat of Arms
Three St. Andrews crosses
The crosses are set in a black stripe, with two red stripes on the
flanks. Two lions hold the banner and a crown rests on top of it. The
origin of the Arms of Amsterdam is not clear. The black could
symbolize the water. The three crosses either refer to the crusades of
an important family de Heren van Persijn, or perhaps to the three
disasters that Amsterdam endured in its history.
In 1489, Emperor Maximilian I allowed the city to carry a crown in
its Coat of Arms, as token of appreciation for its support (Amsterdam was host
to the Emperor during his illness). In the 16th century, the
two lions were added to the Arms.
Queen Wilhelmina allowed the city to add the logo Heldhaftig,
Vastberaden, Barmhartig (Heroic, Determined, Merciful) to the
bottom of the Arms, because of its role during the German occupation.