Dutch Language Blog

Dam Square, Amsterdam Posted by on Aug 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Dam in 1544, as an actual dam in the river Amstel. View faces roughly southwest. On the right hand side are the old town hall and the Nieuwe Kerk. (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

As you exit Amsterdam Centraal station and are smacked in the face with the sights, sounds and smells of busyness you will probably find yourself following the natural flow of people heading off into the city of Amsterdam.  If you manage to navigate the bikes, tram tracks and traffic intersection successfully, then you will quite likely find yourself heading down Damrak.  What once was the city’s busiest canal has since been filled in and developed into a hectic and touristy shopping street.

If you continue down this street, you will find yourself in a big square (perhaps even standing next to a street performer or at least a pigeon or two) with Madame Tussauds and the Royal Palace on two sides.  This is Dam Square.

The history behind Dam Square is quite interesting and here are some things you might not have known about it:

  • Dam Square is the original location of a dam built in the 13th century to protect nearby buildings from the Amstel river.
  • The Amstel flowed in the area where the National Monument now stands.
  • The square has been the site of political and military events – parades, processions, protests.
  • There once was a Weigh House here but it was torn down by order of Louis Bonaparte in 1808 because he felt it blocked his view from the palace.
  • You can still see that Weigh House in some paintings.
  • The obelisk on the East side of the square is the National Monument and was built in 1956 to honour the Dutch

    The National Monument in 2003 (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

    victims of WWII.  It is 22 metres (70 feet) high and embedded behind the walls are urns containing soil from the Dutch provinces and colonies.

  • The square is popular with pigeons and therefore popular with birdfeeding.
  • The current Dam Square grew out of what was two squares – Middeldam and Plaetse.
  • There was once a fish market here.
  • Several tram lines have stops here and at one point the Dam was an important horse tram hub in Amsterdam.

The Square also has some negative history, perhaps the most well known is the Dam Square Shooting.  On May 7th 1945, large numbers of people were in the Square waiting for the Canadian liberators to arrive in the city.  Germany had surrendered two days prior but the city was still filled with many German soldiers.  In the Grote Club, members of the Kriegsmarine were watching the crowd.  They started shooting into the crowds, killing just over 20 people and injuring around 120 more.  You can view some footage of the incident in Amsterdam’s online city archive.

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