For our second group activity, we went on a walking tour (mostly of Centrum) for a few hours. We learned about the 17th century architecture and how the region went from being a harbour and swamp to a city.
Amsterdam-Noord went from being a swamp to hosting the fourth largest harbour in Europe. On the other hand, Amsterdam-Centraal went from being a harbour in the 17th century to the second largest train station in Europe, which was built on pillars in the 1900s.
Many of the buildings we saw throughout Amsterdam were constructed during the Dutch renaissance in the 17th century, when Dutch Baroque architecture was most common. Many buildings feature long windows, gabled roofs, earth-tone colour schemes as well as intricate accents and designs on roofs. The canals were also created during the 17th century over a period of 50 years. These homes and canals are all protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
There are seven districts in Amsterdam, all of which stand on 11 million wooden pillars submerged in water. They rot over time, resulting in structures leaning towards the side. If homes lean too much, foundation repairs can cost up to €250,000.
In the 17th century, houses were priced based on the width of its forefront, which is why the alleyways and roads are lined with narrow, tall structures. Since furniture would be too difficult to lift up steep stairs, the narrow homes were intentionally built to leaning slightly forward so that furniture lifted from the outside and through windows (via a pulley system) wouldn’t bang into the front of the house as they were pulled up.
Unlike Toronto, sidewalks and alleys in Amsterdam are paved with bricks. Main roads where cars and trams (streetcars) traveled were more likely to have asphalt or concrete, but some still had brick paving. The road network followed the curved canals throughout the central district which actually made it easier for us to navigate back towards Central Station.
Due to the bike culture in the city, there were many narrow alleys solely fit for foot and bike traffic. Since many tourists frequented Centrum, homes were converted into businesses and even hostels. Toronto’s more narrow streets are likely to have one-way traffic and parking rather than allow foot traffic only.