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Amsterdam Historical Museum

From a humble 13th-century fishing village to the world's wealthiest city - Amsterdam has a fascinating story to tell - and its Historical Museum is the best place to hear it. Situated near Dam Square, in the heart of the old town, it's within easy reach of many top attractions and should be a prerequisite to visiting any of them.

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This was the first enterance we could find, not too easy to identify but worth it when you do find it. The museum moved to its current location (the former City Orphanage) in 1975, when Amsterdam celebrated its 700th anniversary. The building's beautifully restored 17th-century rooms and courtyards contrast well with a plethora of sleek state-of-the-art exhibits that retell the city's past stage by stage.

One such audio-visual programme, available in both Dutch and English, recalls how the construction of the original settlement of Amstelredam became possible due to natural flooding that drastically altered the once barren local landscape. Migrants harnessed this change with the introductions of dams to specific waterways (Amsterdam itself simply means The dam on the River Amstel and soon a burgeoning new port was taking shape.

City status was granted in 1300 and a prosperous era in trade ensued. Much of the museum focuses particularly on this Golden Age, which reached its zenith in the 1600s, and the extravagant goods that once passed hands at the docks. Other top interactive presentations include five speaking dollhouses that narrate tales of daily life throughout the centuries, and a virtual ride through the city's streets aboard a white car (a widely-touted 1960's solution to environmental issues that never quite got running).

Since 1926, the museum also became a centre for art, inheriting collections from various galleries across the city. Today, many of its 45,000 items are creative pieces, including works by a gamut of regional artists, from the relatively obscure, to the Dutch masters of Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Immense portraits along the vast corridor of the Civic Guard Gallery ensure that local militiamen are still doing their job of casting a suspicious eye on all who pass.

Also literally unmissable are the statues of David and Goliath, housed in the museum's cafe-restaurant. Salvaged from a now extinct amusement garden in the 19th century, they make for interesting lunch mates, especially as the latter of the two stands at over 16 ft tall. Remember to glance skywards while in the Regents' Chamber to see the museum's oldest acquisition - its spectacular 1656 ceiling painting.
Archaeology forms another large proportion of the collection. Notable items discovered in the immediate vicinity include toys, tools, jewellery and even a pair of 13th-century shoes. The "Miracle of Amsterdam" is also covered in great detail. This legendary event occurred in 1345, when a dying man was given his last rites. Hours later, he regurgitated the sacrament wafer, which remained in perfect condition. The wafer was returned to the church in an official procession and the Bishop Jan van Arkel declared it a miracle.

Just inside the enterance the museum gives you an idea of the size it really is.
The city subsequently became a pilgrimage site for thousands of Christians, and ever since, many finds belonging to the travellers have been unearthed. One of the most intriguing is a statue of the Virgin Mary, which was found buried in a coffin during excavations in a graveyard.

More on the Historical Museum

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