It's the fishing village that grew to become one of the largest ports in Europe: capital of the Netherlands, birthplace of the modern stock market, home to Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh and Anne Frank.
Watch the video and answer the questions below.
1. What does '60' refer to?
2. Why was the city's location a threat to its residents?
3. What did the residents of Amsterdam pioneer in the centuries that followed after the city's foundation?
4. How many 'cities' within Amsterdam are mentioned?
5. What was the purpose of the piece of wood coming out the top of buildings with a hook on it?
6. What did Rembrandt capture in his paintings?
7. Why are there no curtains in the windows?
8. What can you buy in a coffee shop?
9. What does the Dutch word gedogen mean?
Welcome to Dam Square, the site of a long-ago dam, they put the dam in Amsterdam. It’s the bustling centre of the city. I’m with the Royal Palace right behind me, the perfect starting-off point.
Perhaps the best way to tour this city is by boat, along its 60 miles of canals.
Here it was in the Middle Ages people started coming here and they…
Our guide is Russell Shorto, author of a bestselling history of Amsterdam. From its founding in the late 12th century, this city's location on a river delta that often flooded, posed a challenge for its residents.
And this is the crucial point, they started banding together in small groups in their communities and building dams and dikes and canals in order to control this problem of water, and make it work for them.
Their success in transforming their natural environment led to a re-shaping of their entire approach to life.
They started to realize, you know, we've got something here. We’ve got this… it changed their mentality, and then they built on that.
What the people of Amsterdam built in the centuries that followed were the first businesses of the modern age: shipping, insurance, the first stock exchange, and international trading enterprises, like the Dutch East India Company. As the economy grew, so did the city, with eye-catching details we saw at every turn.
This is the Herengracht, the Gentleman's Canal, one of the great 17th century canals. This is the Golden Age city that we're in. And you had the Medieval City first, and then the City Fathers made this plan where they were going to lay out this ring of canals around it, because the city was expanding so rapidly.
The canals were lined with the townhouses of Amsterdam's thriving merchant class, each adorned with special architectural details, like these stones to show the owner's profession.
If you look over there, those gables, to… the ones… that’s called a spout gable. You see the piece of wood coming out the top with a hook on it, that's a hoist beam. You would bring your goods on the canal up to your door, and then you would hoist them up, and you would store them in your attic.
And it wasn't all business; genius and talent also flourished in the arts during Amsterdam's Golden Age of the 1600s.
Where we are now, the Doelen Hotel, this is Rembrandt area. You see the guys up there with their fluffy era Rembrandt-era hats on.
Rembrandt's paintings of the city's leading citizens, including the famous Nightwatch, fill Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. He captured all his subjects' outward signs of success, but also, author Russel Shorto says, something more.
He seemed able to paint who you were inside. And if you look at those paintings, you see that, you feel that, you feel these people thought about themselves, for the first time, the way we think about ourselves today.
Along with Rembrandt, there was Van Gogh. There’s an entire museum devoted to his works. And one of the city's most visited sites is the Anne Frank House, where young Anne wrote her famous diary during the two years she and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II.
These days, it seems, there is a refreshing openness about life here. And what’s with the young, no curtains in the windows.
You know, some people say that that is, 'Look, we have nothing to hide.' Or 'We're decent, ordinary people here.’, you know.
Nothing to see here!
Exactly, because, you know…
Another thing an American visitor notices, Amsterdam's tolerant attitude toward everything from marijuana use to sex. The nearly 200 coffee shops here don't just sell coffee; you can also legally buy marijuana, and smoke it on the spot. And there's the famous red light district, where prostitutes legally display their wares. Shorto says the city's tolerance is of long standing.
That is a tricky thing to try to understand, and I don't know if any foreigner, any outsider can really get it, but there's a Dutch word, gedogen, which means -this is my definition of it- it means 'technically illegal, but officially tolerated'.
Put everything we’ve been seeing on our cruise together, and you begin to understand Amsterdam's unique draw.
It's the city itself, it's the city of canals and of canal houses, which are built for individuals. It's a monument to the ordinary individual person and ordinary individual families. This is in many ways the birthplace of our modern sense of ourselves as individuals. This was where that started.
1 The number of miles that canals stretch around Amsterdam
2 It often flooded
3 The first businesses of the modern age
4 Two: The Golden Age City and the Medieval City
5 To bring the goods from the boats into the houses
6 Both the outward signs of success and the person's inside
7 The younger generation has nothing to hide
8 Both coffee and marijuana
9 Technically illegal, but officially tolerated