Ode to Amsterdam

Edition 28 June 2019, by Benjamin Roberts

A Millennium of Amsterdam. Spatial History of a Marvelous City (2019) is not like any other history about Amsterdam. The 62-year old Dutch author, Fred Feddes, is a veteran writer and specialist in urban planning and portrays a thousand years of Amsterdam’s history, but then according to its changing use of space. The book, originally published in Dutch in 2012, has recently been translated into English and covers the period from the year 1000 until 2012, just before the city started to expand again. Feddes starts his narrative with the earliest settlements at the Dam and how the square evolved from a dam across the Amstel River into a center of commerce and trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The space eventually evolved into the epicenter of Dutch economic power and wealth in the world and was epitomized with the construction of the new city hall in 1654. Amsterdam’s inhabitants referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World”. A

fter the Dutch economy waned in the eighteenth century, the square later became the center of political power after King Louis (Napoleon’s brother) turned the city hall into his official residence and palace. In the course of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century the Dam became again a center of commerce and consumerism after luxury departments stores Peek & Cloppenburg and De Bijenkorf were built for the growing middle class. After years of building cranes, dug up streets, and other building obstacles, in 1917 critics complained that the beauty of the Dam and its function as symbol of national unity had been ruined and sold out to consumerism. However, after the Second World War, the square became a national symbol when the National Monument was built in the 1956, commemorating those lost in the war.

For each spatial aspect of the city from its ring of canals, waterways, new districts that were added in the nineteenth century, to Berlage’s ambitious Plan South in the 1920s, Feddes paints a vivid portrait of how the area evolved, and addresses the various issues that city planners were confronted with. Despite the occasional shoddy translation, A Millennium of Amsterdam is a fascinating history of the city, filled with inter- esting anecdotes and numerous illustrations. It’s an ode to Amsterdam just like Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) is to New York City. Fred Feddes, A Millennium of Amsterdam. A Spatial History of a Marvelous City (Bussum: THOTH, 2019)