Depending on the method used to determine these things, several places (Amersfoort, Lunteren and Eembrugge among them) have a valid claim to be the true geographical center of The Netherlands. But there is only one spot that can claim to be the true psychological heart of the country and that is De Dam in Amsterdam. ‘Dam Square’, as tourists usually call it, is where the nation comes together.
Kings and queens are inaugurated here, casualties of war are remembered here and, on a regular basis, public discourse takes place here in the form of protest marches and, occasionally, riots.
Some interesting facts:
- There are many dams in Holland, but The Dam of course is in Amsterdam. It is what gave the city its name. In the 1200s some fisherfolk living along the Amstel River built a dam across it. The settlements around it was named ‘Dam on the Amstel’, or ‘Amsterdam’.
- The river does not reach the dam anymore. It now stops quite abruptly about half a mile away.
- The eastern section of the five acre square is taken up almost entirely by the ‘National Monument’. Unveiled in 1956, it is the location where every year on May 4th (Remembrance Day in the Netherlands) the Dutch pay their respect to the fallen.
- In the summer months, an old-fashioned puppet theater visits the square every Sunday. The tradition dates back to 1886.
- On the west side of the square is the Royal Palace. Built during the most prosperous period of the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic to function as Amsterdam’s City Hall, it was at the time the largest secular building in Europe. It is ironic that what was once the symbol of a republican form of government, became the building that serves as the backdrop to royal events such as investitures, and royal weddings.
- Other notable buildings around the square include the New Church constructed in the 15th century, and the huge Bijenkorf (‘Beehive’) department store built between 1912 and 1915.
- In the late 1960s hippies from all over the world descended on Amsterdam to sleep on the steps of the National Monument. In August of 1970, sleeping on the Dam was officially forbidden. The prohibition was largely ignored the first night after it came into effect, but rogue members of the Royal Marine Corps decided it was time for some vigilante action, and they ‘swept the Dam clean’, as national daily De Telegraaf proclaimed supportively.
For more on the Dam, its function in Dutch society and the buildings around it, read Issue 12 of Dutch the magazine.
For more on The Netherlands, the Dutch, and the Dutch diaspora, subscribe to Dutch the magazine!