While it is the sea that has been responsible for Amsterdam’s development and prosperity, it has also been the city’s greatest adversary. The sea flooded the Amsterdam area regularly for hundreds of years and has left a soft peat layer. Together with the fact that most of Amsterdam is below sea level, makes building extremely difficult.
A well known children’s song says it all:
Amsterdam, that big city
Is built on wooden poles
If that city even falls over
Who would pay for that?
Amsterdam, die grote stad
Die is gebouwd op palen
Als die stad eens ommeviel
Wie zou dat betalen?
During the Middle Ages, houses were made from wood to keep their weight to a minimum and prevent subsidence. After a number of huge fires had reduced parts of the city to ashes, wooden houses were banned in 1669.
The use of brick and stone in buildings, meant that foundations had to be laid on wooden pilings, which were driven about 11 metres(36 feet) into the ground so they rested on a sturdy layer of sand.
Quite an achievement when done by hand!
Off all Europe’s capitals Amsterdam is perhaps the least typical. It has a population of not even a million , covers an area only a fraction the size of London or Paris and it is not the seat of government, which is 50km/31 miles away in The Hague.
More than any other west European city, Amsterdam has developed an intriguing, ambiguous reputation: quaint, gabied backwater, archetypal meltingpot of cultures and many non conformists from all over the world:, and a modern, commercial city. Amsterdam is all these things, and its unique attractions lies in discovering why al these elements manage to co-exist.
Part of the answer lies in a traditional of practical tolerance and liberal attitudes going back centuries, beginning with the city’s opendoor policy to 17th century European Jews and culminating when it became the unofficial capital of the hippy movement in the 1960s and the protest generation of the 1970s.
Amsterdam has an open welcoming population, a picturesque, compact city centre, with hundreds of restaurants, bars and café’s, all major museums and galleries, and a perpetual youthful atmosphere. Unlike other capitals, Amsterdam does not close down after the summer, and you don’t need to wait for a particular time of the year to visit!
You will find the Prinsenboat right in the middle of all this. An excellent starting point for all your exploirations!
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With the reputation as being the Venice of the North, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam is home to about 2400 families who have made their homes in various styles of house boats. About 700 hundred of these are moored within the heart of the city on the 17th Century canals of the inner circle.
As like other parts of Europe water transportation has played a large part in Dutch commerce, but houseboat living wasn’t to become as popular until after the end of the Second World War. With a shortage of homes in Amsterdam this was a creative solution for a fortunate few.
Unlike the earliest residents who may have found accommodations a bit sparse, families who reside on board these floating homes now have all of the modern conveniences that anyone could desire; large and spacious rooms, central heating, cable connections, and room to raise a family.
Under the present policy of the Amsterdam city council the number of houseboats is fixed, no more new mooring permits are released. One of the consequences of this policy is that the desirability of living on a house boat has increased and it is becoming more and more difficult to find one of these homes on the market.
As you walk through the city take the time to look at the number of styles and creativity that residents have chosen in making their floating houses a “home”. Everything from simple to the extreme.