I have visited this city several times, and for me it is a cultural mecca from which I have never tired. I know of no place to rival its music and art, and its opera and ballet; and then there are the canals, the tall solid buildings and some wonderful places to eat! I was last there twelve years ago and for this first of two postings for Amsterdam I am quoting from my diary of that time….
“Lewis Mumford says that Amsterdam is ‘capitalism’s one outstanding achievement, rivalled only by elegant Bath’. A long visit to the Historical Museum confirmed that. I have been there before but now there is an English text as well as the Dutch commentary which was very helpful. I was surprised that little is made of the engineering accomplishment of building a city on marshes, and digging out the three early canals, although there is reference to the fact that the great Town Hall of 1650 rests on 13,657 foundation piles. Despite the variety of trades and the number of consequent industries, grain seems to have been the basic wealth on which the city’s prosperity depended through the years.
Its long resistance to Spanish Catholic domination and its position as the foremost international trading centre of Europe, may contribute to its reputation for religious tolerance.
The city was ruled, however, in its wealthiest years by a small clique of powerful families. There were riots in 1748, and the ‘Patriots’ rose and were put down by a Prussian army. But then with help from the French in 1795, the ruling families were deposed and a republic proclaimed by which time the population was 200,000. Now four times as many people live here.
The feel of the Exhibition is of a city satisfied with itself. The history peters out in the late 1800’s as if nothing happened after then, or nothing that alters the sense of continuity that makes this a city which caries its past with its present.
The Museum is housed in what was once the Old City Orphanage which at one time was home for a thousand children, uniformed and segregated by their sex. In the last years of the eighteenth century about 30,000 paupers received weekly support in the form of a five cent coin, bread and butter and peat for their fire”.
..Certainly this Museum is a superb introduction to the city and deserves as long a visit as one can manage. (There is also an excellent restaurant nearby for when you have viewed as much as you wish). It is of course one of several galleries and museums in the city, and all of them beautifully presented, for, in Amsterdam, style and simple elegance is everywhere to be found. More next time.