Walking down Damrak to Dam Square, is like going back in time. For centuries, merchants from all over the world entered the city this way: Amsterdam has been a trading city since the 17th century, a place where goods from every corner on the globe were offered and sold.
Imagine that you were a captain in the 17th century. And that, after months at sea, you had finally arrived in Amsterdam. With your ship packed with valuables, anchored on ’t IJ (where Central Station is now), you would sail into the city on a smaller boat. Halt! Your sailors want to get off. At the corner (at Pancakes Amsterdam), they leave for the pub to spend the money they earned. They’re probably going to have fun after months on a ship. Do you see that building further on with the words ‘De Cost Gaet Voor de Baet Uyt’? That is the trade office where you had to tell that you wanted to enter the city. After that, you would have to pay taxes in the white building next door (de Heffer). When that was done, you were free to go on to Dam Square, the absolute centre of the city. There would be hundreds of people in the square: traders, the regents who ruled the city from the colossal town hall (now the Royal Palace) and many ordinary people who would be curious to learn about your voyage and all you had brought.
Dam Square is very impressive. Here you can see how Amsterdam developed from the old (Oudezijds, Old Side) on the left into the new (Nieuwezijds, New Side) on the right, in the 17th century.
As a 17th century captain, you wouldn’t have time to take everything in, however: you’d need to sell your goods. Through a small tunnel under Dam Square, you could sail towards the stock exchange that once stood on the corner of Rokin: a beautiful building with a large courtyard from which traders would be able to look through a small opening in the tunnel. You bring valuable things, they would say. How much would you like for it? A simple nod and everything would be sold. Trade in Amsterdam moved fast. With the deal closed, a bag full of golden coins would await you at Munttoren (Mint Tower). You’d be rich. Would you buy a house on the canals with what you earned from your long journey? Or beautiful paintings? How about a tulip bulb? These rare bulbs were worth a fortune…