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Red Light District

Amsterdam Red Light District History

Amsterdam Red Light District History

Red Light District History Amsterdam

Historical Origins and Evolution

The Red Light District, known locally as De Wallen, is not only a major tourist attraction in Amsterdam but also a historical part of the city with a rich past. Tracing back to the 14th century, the area began gaining notoriety for its brothels in the 17th century, during Amsterdam’s Golden Age when the city was a major harbor for goods and sailors. Over the centuries, the district has mirrored the city’s economic fortunes and social attitudes towards sex work. Understanding the evolution of the Red Light District provides insight into broader societal changes in Amsterdam and the Netherlands.

The transformation of the district reflects shifts in government policy, social norms, and economic pressures. From its early days as a haven for sailors, the area has become a symbol of Dutch liberalism and tolerance. However, this evolution has not been without controversy and challenges, as debates over morality, public health, and the rights of sex workers have changed the district’s landscape over time.

The Beginning Of Red Light District Amsterdam

This part of Amsterdam is lively, cheerful and it can be a bit noisy now and then. Maybe it was also that way back then, when it all began. Since prostitution is one of world’s oldest professions, it was already around back in 1200. When Amsterdam was no more than two lines of wooden houses, together forming the first canal. With at one end of it the harbour, exactly where Amsterdam’s Central Station now can be found. From 1200 and onwards it as trade that made Amsterdam.

netherlands red light district history
Amsterdam, Red Light District, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, year 1670.

De Wallen Amsterdam

Did you know that the Dutch don’t call this area the Red Light District? In the Netherlands, this area is known as “De Wallen“. In the early growth days of Amsterdam it was enclosed and protected by earthen walls. That is the origin of the name “De Wallen” for this area. De Wallen immediately refers to sex and prostitution in Holland, and it has been so for hundreds of years.

Important street names in the Red Light District are for example the Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal. As you can see, these street names end on “wal”. The Dutch plural for “wal” is “wallen”.

history behind red light district
Amsterdam, Red Light District, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, 1895.

Amongst other things, in the earliest beginnings of the town, fishery was bringing in a lot of money. Later shipping of timber and even later the trade in Far East spices (cinnamon, pepper, clove etc.) and tea and coffee brought in huge amounts of money. Amsterdam stored it all in the now famous ware houses, which were part of the living quarters of the a traders. One can see these houses at the Brouwersgracht for instance. They are recognisable by their characteristic wooden hatches at the front.

Red Light District History: Street Names

netherlands red light district history
Amsterdam, Gebed zonder end street, year 1892.

Street names like ‘Gebed zonder end‘ (translated: Prayer-Without-End) and Monnikenstraat (Monks street) are pretty contradictory to the scenes you get to see nowadays. The Monks Street in Amsterdam is named after the Grey Monks Monastery that used to be located in the Red Light District.

history of red light district amsterdam - The Blood Street (Bloedstraat) in 1890
Amsterdam, Red Light District, Bloedstraat, 1890.

The Blood Street (Dutch: Bloedstraat) is a short and narrow street in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. The street is located between Nieuwmarkt and Oudezijds Achterburgwal Street. Amsterdam used to have 20 monasteries. Nowadays, the Bloedstraat is also known as the Blue Light District where several transgender sex workers rent window brothels.

Since 1464, the Franciscan monastery and the so called “Vroedschap” church of the Gray Monks were located in this street. The Franciscan monastery was the largest men convent in Amsterdam. It was destroyed in 1578 and then on January 7, 1588 the town council decided to tear down the church too. Therefore, the Blood Street arose on the perimeter and next to it the Monk Street (Dutch: Monnikenstraat). The Blood Street in the Red Light District refers to the former blood chamber of the monastery which might also have served as a torture chamber.

According to historian Melchior Fokkens, Alva – a Spanish general and governor of the Netherlands –  kept his “blood counsel” on what’s now The Blood Street.

Amsterdam Red Light District History: Alva had his blood council on the Blood Street
Amsterdam, 1573. Alva’s last ride through the city. 

Amsterdam was a very religious city back then. But it was also a trade point, a raw place with prostitution, sailors and criminality. Nowadays, the Blood Street is filled with window brothels which have red and blue lights. Wanna know who uses the blue lights? Join our tour and our local guide will tell you.

Kreupelsteeg in Amsterdam

The Kreupelsteeg (English: cripple alley) is named after the cripples who came here hoping to be cured. It’s located in the heart of the Red Light District.

Koestraat in Amsterdam

In 1450, the Bethaniën monastery (Bethaniën klooster) was built here. Between what’s now the Barndesteeg and the Bethanienstraat. It was built for Augustinian nuns and fallen women. Prostitutes who were “saved” or those who wanted to stop, could find here a refuge. In the 16th-century this monastery had a money problem and they had to sell a part of their ground. First at the Bethaniënstraat in 1506 and 19 years later the Koestraat (Cow street) was constructed right through the complex and became a public street. Koestraat is named after the cattle the nuns kept for their meat. The stables were on that side of the monastery.

Warmoesstraat in Amsterdam

At the flanks of the Warmoesstraat (English: Warmoes Street), Amsterdammers had kitchen gardens (moes literally means chard or vegetable). But since say the year 1600, only houses were built here. Ground had more value with a house on it since the city was growing and the need for houses was high.

history behind red light district

The photo above was taken in 1905. It shows the back of a house that was located on the Warmoesstraat. Around this time, lots of houses were in really bad shape. Like the one on the photo. These house weren’t properly isolated and very unhygienic.

The Red Light District is the oldest part of town and the Warmoes Street is the oldest street of Amsterdam. The Old Church (De Oude Kerk), the oldest still existing church of Amsterdam. It dates from 1200-1300. It’s located in the middle of the area, just next to the Warmoes Street.

The Miracle Of Amsterdam

Amsterdam has had its own true miracle. Around 1350 there was a fire. A catholic wafer [hostie] was in the midst of it, but didn’t burn: The Miracle of Amsterdam was born. Many came here as a pilgrim, even a Pope and an Emperor. Amsterdam became a holy place.

Oudezijds Kolk Or Kolksluis (Kolk Sluice)

history behind red light district
Painting from 1839 inspired on the Kolk Sluice in Amsterdam.

This is one of Amsterdam’s oldest, still functioning, sluice – dating from the Middle Ages, first half 14th C. Technically, the ‘kolk’ is the area between both pairs of sluice doors. In times past the ‘Kolksluis’ was part of a system of sluices, that had two main functions: a. protect against high tide; b. help refresh the water in the canal system.

The Red Light District History: Between 1500 And 1600

Until 1578 the area known as Oude Zijde was characterised by the many monasteries. After the Alteration in that same year the convents were given a new destination by the city government, like a prison or orphanage. The alteration meant that  Holland threw off the reign by Emperors or Kings {Philip II of Spain was the Landlord of the low countries as from 1555} and went on as a Republic. The Netherlands had to fight for 80 long years to achieve this. In 1648 Holland was acknowledged its own, separate Republic by the rest of Europe in the Treaty of Munster, where all of continental Europe was rearranged.

Hidden Catholic Churches

The building “Our Lord At The Attic” (Onze Lieve Heer Op Solder) on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 has a complete hidden catholic church in its attic. It was a house that was build in the year 1550 and owned by a true catholic, who freed the whole floor to be dedicated to the service of God. Complete with chairs for the rich (the poor had to stand up) and pulpit for the priest. Now it’s a really nice museum. One can also see how life was in such a house around 1600.

netherlands red light district history
Our Lord In The Attic

Red Light District History: The Netherlands In Between The 17th And 18th Century

From the year 1666 the Netherlands turned protestant when the so called Statue Storm (Dutch: Beeldenstorm) took place all over Southern and Northern parts of the low lands. The south was formed by now Belgians cities like Antwerp, Brussels and Brugge. From then on Catholicism had a hard time, it was even forbidden. But like always in Holland, it was winked at, and the Catholics could have their service at secret places. As long as they didn’t make fuss.

Amsterdam Red Light District History: Casanova visits the Netherlands

In 1758 the famous Italian fraud and womanizer Casanova visited Amsterdam and also “De Wallen”, the Red Light District, since he was obsessed with sex.

The Red Light District History: from 1850 till 2013

In Victorian times, prostitution was illegal. But of course the men could still get their satisfaction secretly, in brothels, inns and taverns. There was always a woman, known for her easy ways.

Amsterdam Red Light District History. "De Wallen" in 1886 in front of the Old Church.
January 1886.  Amsterdam’s Red Light District, just next to The Old Church.

The picture above was taken in the 19th-century. You see two women and a man with a derby walking through the neighborhood. What’s interesting to know about this photo is that all the buildings in the back are still here this very day.

netherlands red light district history
Amsterdam, Red Light District, Old Church Square, 5th of May in 1894. 

The Old Church is the oldest building in Amsterdam. It stands in the heart of the Red Light District and is surrounded by window brothels, cafes, restaurants and normal residential houses. The picture above was taken by a famous Dutch photographer of that time: Jacob Olie. He shot this photo on a sunny day in 1894, as you can see by the man in the back who tries to block the sunlight with his hand. In those days, people had to stand very still to guarantee a sharp photograph.

The year 1901 till 1910

history of red light district
Old Church Square between 1900 – 1910. This picture was shot by Tavik Frantisek Simon.

The Old Church Square in Amsterdam is one of the highlights during our tours. Get to know more about this fascinating area and see how the church is surrounded by brothels, cafes, restaurants and even a kindergarten.



red light district history amsterdam
Amsterdam, year 1905. Two prostitutes sitting in front of a house waiting for customers.

Fun fact: Another word for street prostitute is ‘street daisy”.

The picture is above is very unique and special! It took us quite a long time to find this photo. The reason why it’s so special is because it really shows how prostitution took place back in 1905. The prostitutes wore long dresses, sat in front of houses and waited for customers. In those years, the ladies were also known as ‘street daisies’ (Dutch: Straatmadeliefjes). The man on the picture is most likely a pimp, which was quite normal in that time. He took care of the customers and handled aggressive customers when necessary.

Fun fact: Another word for pimp is ‘souteneur’. It’s a French word and stems from ‘soutenir’, meaning ‘support’ or ‘defend’.

Red Light District History: In The Port Of Amsterdam

The famous Flemish singer Jacques Brel sang an evenly famous song  “In the Port of Amsterdam” describing the raw atmosphere and actions of the sailors and prostitutes. The song was a true tribute to them. The port was adjacent to Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

In the 30ies of the 20th century, window prostitution appeared. Before window prostitution there were brothels or whores picked you up in an inn to go elsewhere or to a room in the inn. Prostitutes were not allowed by the police to lure clients in the door-opening, but were allowed to sit behind the window and do the same, with the curtains almost closed.

Red Light District History: The Second World War 1940-1945

On May 15 1940, the day after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch military surrendered. The government and the royal family had escaped to London and went into exile.

history behind red light district second world war
Amsterdammers look at German War Planes in the sky, May 10th 1940. Picture by Sem Presser.

In the early days of the German occupation daily life continued as normal, even in the Red Light District. Police station Warmoesstraat remained open and no police officers quit their job. The same was true for the civil servants at city hall. ‘People bided their time, which is a pretty common characteristic of civil servants’ Stated Frans Hupsch in 1994, editor of a Dutch newspaper ‘Gemeenteblad’. Soon after the Red Light District experienced the consequences of war and occupation. International trade ground to a halt, which had dramatic consequences for the tea, coffee and tobacco companies in the area. What did flourish was the shadow economy. There were two of these ‘markets’, one on the Zeedijk and one on the Nieuwmarkt. anything could be bought there but only for exorbitantly high prices. One kilo of potatoes would cost 6,50 Guilders, a pound of lard cost 55 Guilders, this at a time when the average weekly salary was between 30, – and 40, – Guilders.

history behind red light district world war 2
Amsterdam, Prins Hendrikkade, May 1940. German soldiers cycle in a group, just next to the Red Light District.

What About Prostitution In The Red Light District During The Second World War?

The prostitution industry too got in a slump. A curfew was put in place by the Germans, which meant that there was no money to be made during the evening or night. Invitingly illuminated windows were also out of order because of the enforced blackout every night. In addition, the Red Light District was quickly banned for entertainment-seeking German soldiers. Occupant Nel Hoenderdos saw on the Zeedijk how SS officers with “big guns” aimed at soldiers who ignored the ban. It gave the writer and actress Hermine Heijermans, who earned her living as a fortuneteller, a “relatively safe” feeling.

history behind red light district second world war
On the right: 1940-1945, a german soldier stands next to a prostitute, most likely on Dam Square. On the right: November 1941, German soldiers on Dam Square. Picture source: Collectie Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Did Prostitution Stop In the Red Light District During World War Two?

Prostitution went out of sight, away from the windows and doors and into the underground. In the cafes prostitutes would find their clientele. But the cafés in the Red Light District also shared in the malaise. Several café owners moved their business to the Nieuwendijk, where it was busier. In the gay friendly café – named ‘t Mandje – owned by Bet van Beeren’, you could still eat a meal for a reasonable price, although the pea soup was reportedly prepared with cat meat. Bets sister Greet couldn’t help but loudly meow when a dish was served. But in the basement weapons were stored for illegal practices and in the attic people were hiding from the Germans.

Amsterdam Red Light District During Second World War
Amsterdam, Oudezijds Achterburgwal, 1940. This is what the Red Light District looked like at the beginning of World War II. Picture by Bernard F. Eilers

Persecution Of Jews In Amsterdam 

Amsterdam’s Red Light District probably has always been the most diverse part of the Netherlands. The same goes for the people who live and work there. But one of the most iconic groups of people has completely disappeared since the Second World War. The deportation of all of the Jewish inhabitants has irreversible changed the character of the Red Light District.

Red Light District History During The Second World War
The signs that were put at the entrances of so called ‘Jewish Quarters’ in Amsterdam.

In many European cities ghettos were created. In Amsterdam something similar happened, the Nazis attempted to make a similar closed off ghetto, the so-called ‘Jewish Corner’ on the eastern side of the city center. Strictly speaking, the Red Light District (Wallen buurt in Dutch) wasn’t part of the new Jewish Corner, but the district, the nieuwmarkt and the alleys between the Oudezijds Achterburgwal and Kloveniersburgwal were a sort of ‘suburb’ of the Jewish Corner. On February 11, 1941, the Jewish corner was closed off with barbed wire and raised bridges. Plates were placed with the text ‘Juden Viertel’ (Jewish Quarters). The attempt failed. The district was too small to contain all the Jews in Amsterdam and there were also still 6000 non-Jewish Amsterdammers living there. At the request of the municipal council, the barbed wire was removed after a few days and the bridges were lowered again. The signs were kept there.

Red Light District During World War Two
Amsterdam, Nieuwmarkt, 1941.

This area is just next to the Red Light District newly called  ‘Jewish Corner’ was temporarily closed off back then.

The Persecution Of The Jews Intensified

The Nazis stuck to their plan to gather all the Jews. In April 1941, they determined that Jews should no longer be able to move house without permission. On January 14, 1942, all the Jews in Zaandam heard from the local police that they had to move – with only hand luggage – to Amsterdam. Amsterdam municipal officials meanwhile mapped out where all the Jews lived. They made a ‘dots map’, each dot on the map representing 10 Jews. The Germans learned from this that there were many Jews living in the Eastern- and Southern parts of Amsterdam. In addition to the before mentioned Jewish Quarter, the Transvaal Neighbourhood and the River District were also marked as Jewish Quarters: Juden Viertel II and Juden Viertel III.

Red Light District History During Second World War
The ‘dots map’, each dot represented ten Jews. A high resolution picture can be found here. 

Jews From All Over Holland Were Sent To Amsterdam

Subsequently, Jews from the most western parts of the Netherlands – from the top of Noord-Holland to Arnhem and Middelburg – were forced to move to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, forced moving of Jews also took place. What followed after this were deportations, mostly via the Hollandsche Schouwburg, Vught and Westerbork towards the extermination camps or concentration camps In Poland. Of the 80.000 Jews from Amsterdam only 5000 survived. A total of 98 deportation trains with a 100.000 people left the Netherlands without a single incident.

Amsterdam Holocaust

The Hunger Winter Of 1944 – 1945

In the summer of 1944 the end of the German occupation seemed like just a matter of time. The morale of the occupier fell by the day and cracks appeared even within the leadership of Adolf Hitler’s once-so-powerful apparatus, leading him to no longer trust his generals. Because of these events Amsterdammers could already taste freedom in September 1944. But after the Allies lost the battle for Arhnem in September 1944, they gave the cold shoulder to the western parts of the Netherlands and continued to march Towards Berlin. It turned out that Amsterdam had to wait another long winter for its freedom. It turned out to be horrible months.

Amsterdam history hunger winter
Amsterdam, 1944. Children remove wood from the tramway lanes to be used as firewood. 

What Caused The Hunger Winter?

Because the Allies had already conquered South Limburg, the normal supply of coal from there completely stopped. In addition, the railways were on strike at the request of the Dutch government in London. As a result, the gas- and the power plants got shut down in the beginning of October. Amsterdam became a cold, dark city, where no tram worked. Schiphol and the ports were blown up by the Germans, after which half of the city was emptied by the occupying army: shipyards, busses, trains, machines, factory supplies, tram wagons, bicycles, textiles, all that could be of use was dragged away. Meanwhile, military patrols went after all men between the ages of seventeen and fifty for the Arbeitseinsatz (work deployment) in Germany. In December, business was largely quiet. Most Amsterdammers didn’t work anymore, or at most a few days a week. The schools were closed.

Amsterdam history hunger winter

Copyright Cas Oorthuys/ NFA Coll. Nederlands Film Museum

In December It Started To Freeze

At the end of December it began to freeze, and that was the beginning of a large famine. Until the beginning of February it was extremely cold, and with the freezing of the IIsselmeer (IJssel Lake) the last transport route for food was cut off. There was no fuel – and the Amsterdammers had to help themselves. They cut down trees, burnt the numerous wooden blocks that lay between the tramway lanes and plundered the empty houses of the tens of thousands of Jews who were deported. Floors, stairs, beams, everything was taken away, and eventually the walls slowly came down. In the course of the Hunger Winter entire streets were ruined. In the massive hunt for fire wood 20.000 trees were cut down and 4600 houses were completely destroyed.

Red Light District History During Second World War
Houses are torn down in Amsterdam, 1944. Picture by Ad Windig. 

More Hardships During The Hunger Treks

Amsterdammers started searching for food in the northern provinces of the Netherlands in so-called hunger treks (honger tochten). Thousands of city dwellers scoured the country side with ramshackle carts, strollers en bicycles with wooden wheels across frozen, bare landscapes, hoping to find some patatos or cauliflower. They exchanged them for jewellery, antique, watches, linnen, or in some cases, sexual favours. Closer towards the spring, when things got to their worst, these Hunger Treks could last op to weeks, and could go as far as Friesland. Hundreds of Amsterdammers died of hunger en the cold: in January 1945 around 1200, in February around 1400 and in March 1600. In the Netherlands as a whole more than 20,000 people died. On May 5th 1945 the Netherlands was finally liberated.

history behind red light district second World War

After The Hardships Comes Liberation on the 5th of May 1945

Red Light District History Dutch Resistance Members Celebrate
Dutch Resistance fighters celebrate victory. Coloured picture source

Amsterdam’s Red Light District History: 1950’s Till Today

Amsterdam Red Light District Prostitute 1957
Amsterdam, Red Light District, 1957. A prostitute stands in the doorway of her brothel.

In the sixties and onwards prostitution grew and grew in Amsterdam’s Red Light District (“De Wallen“) and became even bigger; more window brothels and more prostitutes, but also more sex shows and sex shops.

This is how the Red Light District in Amsterdam looked like in 1968. Photo by Elliott Erwitt
This is what the Red Light District in Amsterdam looked like in 1968.  Photo by Elliott Erwitt.  

In those years, a lot of window brothels had a painting of a crying gypsy boy. The sex workers believed it would bring luck, fortune and happiness. The picture above shows a painting like that.

Amsterdam Window Prostitute 1960's
A window prostitute called “Parijse Leen”. Amsterdam, Red Light District, late 1960’s. Pic by: C. Jaring 

The interior of the window brothels in Amsterdam looked like small living rooms, as you can see on the pictures above. Mind the paper-hangings, lamps, paintings and curtains. Nowadays, the window brothels have a very modern look. They are still quite small though. Usually it just has a bed, a washing table and a chair.

history behind red light district
Amsterdam’s Red Light District in 1978. Most sex shops sold porn magazines back then.

One famous brothel in Amsterdam was Yab Yum, founded in 1980, for the rich. It was very luxurious and had a fine interior. It still exists, as a museum though.
Netherlands Red Light District history
A window prostitute presents herself in the Red Light District. 3th of April 1984.

Netherlands Red Light District history
Amsterdam, Red Light District. 1980’s. Police officers pose for their police station.

Prostitution, euthanasia (under strict conditions) and gay marriage were legalised in Holland. That happened around the year 2000. Coffeeshops were condoned from the year 1970 onwards.

In 2009 the city council accorded to label window prostitution as a criminal activity and a criminal branche. After that the the City government decided in 2011 to chase the window brothels [mostly consisting of one tiny room] from for instance the Saint Annen street and the Old Church square [Oude Kerks plein]. The City of Amsterdam aims to help women who are forced into prostitute with these policies.

Since 2010 the city of Amsterdam has campaigned to drive human trafficking out of town. The city buys properties and houses to remove window brothels from streets and squares.

Red Light District History: Belle

At the open day of the Red Light District on 31 march 2007, for the first time male sex workers stood in the windows. On that day a bronze statue of the female artist Els Reijerse was also revealed honouring prostitutes. It was an initiative from the well-known Mariska Majoor, an ex-prostitute and advocate for sex workers. The statue is named “Belle” and looks like this:

Red Light District history
Amsterdam, Red Light District, Old Church Square. Belle – Respect sex workers all over the world.

Red Light District sex work
In 2006 a prostitute showed herself outside in the heart of the Red Light District. Picture by: Nadine Siddré.

Red Light District History: Amsterdam’s Oldest House

A few years ago, it was thought that the wooden house from 1528 in the Begijnhof, was the oldest preserved house in Amsterdam. Since 2012, we know that the Warmoesstraat 90 building is really the oldest. The house’s wooden skeleton dates back from 1485. Amsterdam still has a couple of really old houses built around 1500. The most famous two were the Houten Huys in the Begijnhof and the café Int Aepjen on the Zeedijk 1. A house has recently been added to that list, and it is immediately Amsterdam’s oldest house: Warmoesstraat 90.

Amsterdam oldest house
This is the oldest house in Amsterdam.

The discovery was made after years of research on the wooden skeleton of the property. The building is the only preserved house from the late Middle Ages in Amsterdam. From the outside, the old age of the house is not recognisable as the façade dates back to 1800. The discovery of the oldest house in Amsterdam was by chance, done by a construction inspector who walked through the property with the owner and noted the typical late medieval parts of the wooden skeleton. After research done on the growth rings in the wood, the exact date could be determined. Several people, including a wine-maker, and sheet merchant have inhabited the property. The property has been a hotel for some time now and prior it was also a gay bar for several years.

How Did Amsterdam Get its Canals? 

Back in 1275 the city only consisted of just a few rows of houses on the east bank of the Amstel. The early origins of this district (now the Red Light District) around the Warmoesstraat is reflected in the names of canals and accompanying street like the Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal and Kloveniersburgwal (literally translated ‘old-side frond city-wall’, ‘old-side rear city-wall’ and ‘harquebusiers city wall’.The expansion of Amsterdam was accompanied by the digging of new canals which, up until the 17th century were used for among other things defence, and up until the 19th century, for transportation. The pictures and text series below will give you a good impression of the Amsterdam canals construction and history.

Amsterdam Canal Construction

Above, the natural watershed: A system of streams en tributaries gently drains excess water off the swamps and marshlands to the sea via the Amstel River.

Amsterdam Canal Construction

Above, the dikes: Early inhabitants of Amsterdam built their homes up on raised mounds of earth. When during that time the sea level began to rise the settlers constructed the Zeedijk (sea-dike) and the Nieuwendijk (new-dike) along the mouth of Amstel as a protection against the elements.

Amsterdam Canal Construction

Above, the windmill: The sea level kept rising but the new innovation called windmill allows the farmers to keep the water level in their fields artificially low. A side effect however, since the peat shrinks as it dries, is that the level of the land sinks, thus increasing the dependence on dikes and windmills for Amsterdam canals construction.

Amsterdam Canal Construction

Above, the pattern of city growth: As Amsterdam grows the surrounding areas must be filled In order to bring it up to the same level as the older parts. Canals are dug which provide drainage and sewage disposal as well as door-to-door transportation for commerce. The canals are flushed at low tide and re-filled with the high tide. Windmills are built on the southwest outskirts where they become the focal point of convergence of many industries.

Amsterdam Canal Construction

Above, the city walls: Political and military considerations encouraged the building the building of walls (as well as canals), later to become fortified. The immovability of these walls in turn encourages maximum use of the space inside.

Amsterdam Canal Construction

Above, expansion: A thriving economy and a rapidly increasing population causes a period of tremendous growth in the 17th century, which lead to an increase in Amsterdam canals construction. It was not the first nor the last, but certainly the most dramatic expansion. In about fifty years a huge additional area of lands enclosed within new, fortified city walls, is constructed.

Historical Amsterdam Canals Map

In the pictures below you can see the various stages of the development of Amsterdam’s canals. The canal systems of the earlier periods are shown in black overlaying the current (light grey) situation.

Amsterdam Canals Map

Amsterdam Canals Map

Moulin Rouge in Amsterdam’s Historic Heart

Exploring the vibrant history of Amsterdam’s Red Light District unveils a tapestry of cultural evolution, marked by its unique blend of liberalism, art, and social dynamics. Amidst this historical exploration, one cannot overlook the iconic Moulin Rouge in Amsterdam, a name that resonates with entertainment and the rich cabaret tradition, mirroring its Parisian counterpart’s allure. This renowned venue offers visitors a glimpse into the district’s diverse entertainment scene, blending history with modern-day nightlife. Whether you’re captivated by the district’s storied past or its contemporary vibrancy, securing tickets to the Moulin Rouge in Amsterdam provides an unforgettable experience that bridges the old with the new, embodying the district’s enduring charm and its role as a cornerstone of Amsterdam’s cultural and entertainment landscape. For those interested in experiencing this legendary venue firsthand, further details are available here: Moulin Rouge in Amsterdam.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the Red Light District in Amsterdam first become known for sex work?

The Red Light District in Amsterdam, known as De Wallen, has a history of sex work dating back to the 14th century. However, it became more prominently associated with the trade in the 17th century, during Amsterdam’s Golden Age, when the city was a major maritime power and the district catered to sailors visiting the port.

How has the Red Light District changed over time?

Over the centuries, the Red Light District has undergone significant changes, reflecting shifts in societal attitudes, economic conditions, and legal frameworks. Originally a district with a mix of activities, it gradually became more focused on sex work. In the 20th century, efforts to regulate the industry and improve worker safety became prominent, leading to the legalization and regulation of prostitution in the Netherlands in 2000. This legal change aimed to ensure better conditions for sex workers and to combat human trafficking.

What historical buildings can be found in the Red Light District?

The Red Light District is home to several historical buildings and sites, including the Oude Kerk (Old Church), Amsterdam’s oldest building, dating back to 1306. Another notable site is the Warmoesstraat, one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam, which has historically been a part of the district’s bustling trade and commerce scene.

4. How did World War II affect the Red Light District?

During World War II, the Red Light District was affected by the German occupation of the Netherlands. Despite the harsh conditions and moral campaigns by the Nazis, the area continued to operate, albeit under strict regulations and control. The period also saw increased clandestine activity, reflecting the resilience of the district’s workers and the local community against the oppressive regime.

5. What role did the Red Light District play in the development of Amsterdam’s liberal policies?

The Red Light District has played a crucial role in shaping Amsterdam’s reputation as a city of tolerance and liberal social policies. The district’s existence and the city’s approach to managing it—focusing on harm reduction, regulation, and the rights of sex workers—have contributed to broader discussions and policies on drug use, sex work, and personal freedoms in Amsterdam and the Netherlands.

6. How have recent laws and regulations impacted the historical landscape of the Red Light District?

Recent laws and regulations aimed at protecting sex workers, preventing human trafficking, and balancing the district’s commercial tourism with local community interests have impacted the Red Light District’s historical landscape. Efforts to reduce the number of window brothels, introduce new zoning laws, and manage tourist numbers are reshaping the area, reflecting ongoing attempts to preserve its historical character while addressing contemporary social and economic challenges.



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