Saturday, 9 June 2012

Friday in Amsterdam

We got up around 8 am and watched the city in the early morning. Shops open around 10 and 11 am, so it is relatively quiet until then. We walked around the canals and discovered that each canal in a half moon and the name of the canal represent the class of people who live on and around the area. Per example Prinzen Gracht is for lower middle-class people, Keizers Gracht is middle to upper class merchants, Heren Gracht is the wealthy upper class, the Heren were the Watchmen of the City and you had to be rich to do guard duty because of the cost of armour and weapons, etc... Civic duty placed those citizens of the city at the forefront. They paid for the militia and deputies who did the watching for them.
Detail of a larger painting representing the Heren or the city watchmen, see the wealth of their clothes.

We also discovered that the name of the city was a composition of the name of the Amstel river and Dam which is the central point of the city itself. The Royal Family, House of Orange lives in the capital The Hague which is merely minutes away from Amsterdam. The royals do not own any of the Palaces, they are put at their disposal by the people and the Government.
Royal Palace in Amsterdam on the Dam (main square).

Amsterdam is a city of about 790,000 people, smaller than Ottawa but with a far superior and more developed public transport system than anything we can dream of back home. We saw hundreds of people riding their bikes throughout the city, we have been told many times to be careful to look both ways before crossing any streets, bikes have the right of way.

We had the most beautiful boat ride around the city and we gained a better understanding of the urban plan of Amsterdam and had a good look at the architecture, most, if not all of it, dates from the golden age of The Netherlands as a commercial shipping and trade magnet between Asia and Europe 1600 and 1790.
The houses are tall often 4 to 5 floors, but the frontage is narrow, some less then 2 meter wide at the front. Taxation on a property was calculated on the width of your property at the front street side. So many houses are very narrow at the front but much wider at the back. Similar to what we saw in Vietnam a few years ago.

As early as 1520 the Dutch traded in spices, rare cloth and other precious items. Their main competitors at the time was Portugal. Some of those spices like clove came from Malacca and was extremely expensive. The Dutch also raided the Spanish fleet transporting the Silver from the Americas annually to Spain. These raids were done on orders from the West Indies Company whose board resided and operated from Amsterdam and coveted the silver for the companies fortune and stock holders greater joy. One such raid brought in the equivalent if compared with today, of 500 billion Euros in silver ingots, a phenomenal sum of money then and now. 
Spain had been the colonial master of The Netherlands for many centuries, the Dutch revolted under the leadership of the Prince of Orange and rid themselves of the Spanish Regents. It happened at the same time as Calvin and his brand of Protestantism was gaining popularity. Catholic churches were seen as the power base of Spain, they were taken over and altered to meet the new Protestant standard. We visited several Calvinist churches in Amsterdam and they have no decoration inside, no statues, no Altar and no crosses. Only a pulpit to preach the gospel and an organ for music.
Wester Kerk on the Prinzen Gracht

Amsterdam was an very rich commercial city and due to international trade, developed rapidly during those years, what we see today is the result of this wealth.

We then walked to the Rijksmuseum, currently under renovation until 2013. However the great masters and other works of art can be viewed. Vermeer, Rembrandt, Van Ruisdael, etc are on view, reflecting the views and taste of their wealthy patrons who sought portraits of themselves and their families, often in a very familiar setting of every day life, though dressed in their most expensive clothes and jewellery.

An interesting fact on Rembrandt was that he died a pauper despite the fact that he became quite wealthy during his life but he wasted his money on various curios, so much so that when he declared bankruptcy the bailiff made a list of all these many objects for sale, it makes for interesting reading. Rembrandt is buried in the Wester Kerk, the one with the blue imperial Crown at top of its steeple. But no one is sure where exactly his remains are in the church floor, his wife and son Titus are also buried there in marked graves. The church is next door to the Anne Frank House but we did not go in, the lines and wait times were impossible and the house is quite small.

We returned home a little tired but on such a beautiful sunny day it is a pleasure to walk along the canals of this city.


  1. wow..thanks for all the info..most of that I didn't know..such a beautiful country.

  2. thanks to Peter at "Tippin the Scales" I feel I have seen Amsterdam top to bottom, but I want to see it some day never the less.