It is often said that a city’s main square is its heart and soul, and never more is this true, than in Amsterdam. Dam Square, the city’s epicentre, boasts a colourful and turbulent history, as most major town squares do. We need only look at recent world events, to understand that a geographical central point of reference in a major city can swiftly become the focus of protest, demonstrations and all-round social gatherings. While Amsterdam’s Dam Square may nowadays be renowned mostly for clashes between tourists and pigeons (more comical than newsworthy), this has not always been the case. Indeed, this now enticing tourist hub, complete with UNESCO heritage buildings, trendy café, restaurants and boutiques has witnessed all the trials and tribulations of this now thriving nation.
Book an apartment in the Centre Dam area and come discover for yourself why Dam Square is still revered as the birthplace of Amsterdam.
It all started innocently enough (as most things do), when a dam was built on this site in the late 1200s to hold off the rising waters of the River Amstel. Settlements on both sides of the river had existed for years, yet their interaction had been kept to a minimum due to sheer lack of passable river crossings. Once the dam was built trading quickly commenced, and it wasn’t long before riverside squares were established on both sides, to facilitate the trafficking and selling of goods. Amsterdam’s first town hall was built right here, as soon as additions were made to the dam and the two squares united.
The area flourished immensely due to the ever increasing merchant trade, and by the 15th century Amsterdam became the most important trading port city in Holland, thanks to the construction of Dam Square.
The square’s original weigh house, often depicted in old paintings, actually managed to survive right up until the early 19th Century, when Napoleon Bonaparte ordered it to be demolished as it disturbed his aesthetic sensitivities.
Dam Square was the site of one of the bloodiest event in Amsterdam’s history when, two days after Germany surrendered in 1945, regressing troops opened fire on the enormous crowd which had gathered there to await the liberating Allied troops. The Dam Square shooting of 1945 is considered by most historians to be Germany’s last ditch effort to inflict pain and suffering on the most innocent of civilians. What was even more distressing was the fact that the German soldiers had scaled the walls of the Royal palace and proceeded to bombard the compact crowd for quite some time before resistance troops were able to overpower them. Dozens of men, women and children, who had endured and somehow survived years of war, suffering and hunger, lost their lives in this most iconic Amsterdam landmark.
Amsterdam’s main plaza is now the largest historic centre in the whole country. It is home to hundreds of historic buildings, including the spectacular Royal Palace, the gothic-inspired New Church and the infinitely famous De Bijenkorf department store, which has been in operation here since the turn of the last century.
The National Monument in Dam Square, and imposing white stone obelisk, was built in 1956 to commemorate all the fallen victims of the Second World War, including those who died during the 1945 shooting.
Present-day Dam Square is now considered to be the epicentre of tourist activities in Amsterdam and offers a myriad of shopping, dining and socializing options.
Since the 1960s, when it was the hippie headquarters of the city, Dam Square has been an intrinsic meeting place of the city’s youth. It is certainly an enticing destination for anyone wanting a taste of Amsterdam’s effervescence.