Photo: Archief gemeente Amsterdam

The beginning

Draining the marshy peat bog to win land began around the end of the 10th century. Our final capital city was built a mere two centuries later.

For a long time Amsterdam was little more than a farming village situated on the Amstel river. The first streets and canals were protected by earthen walls, which is why the old city centre is now known as De Wallen.

Dikes and a dam were built and ‘Aemstelledam’ soon began to develop into an important harbour city. The pubs on the Warmoesstraat, around the Oudekerksplein and, in a later phase, on the Zeedijk and Ouderzijds Voor- and Achterburgwal were a welcome diversion for the many visiting sailors and merchants. The old centre is my favourite part of Amsterdam. Everything life has to offer can be found here in one square kilometre. Famous for its window prostitution it has now fallen victim to gentrification although it is still the cause of much debate. The future of the Wallen is seen as a problem to solve by every new city council and each new generation of Amsterdammers wonders what to think about the phenomenon of paid sex. At the same time, life in the Wallen goes about its business as it has for centuries and doesn’t bother itself too much with this. Answering the call of the bells in the Oude Kerk, the farmers from the east of the country still travel to Amsterdam to paint the town red. Hooting and hollering they spend their evening in the Bananenbar until that piece of land, once reclaimed by their ancestors, becomes too hot to handle. Present and past are intertwined. Nowhere is that more visible than in the Wallen.