A city on the tops of the trees
"It is not easy to give the reader an idea of this remarkable city (Amsterdam) crossed and recrossed by canals in all directions-a city half water and half land-in which the canals are the streets and highways, leading towards the open sea, which seems to bold the city in its arms. It is only by means of expensive and most substantial dikes and sluices, elaborately constructed and carefully repaired, and guarded, that the sea is kept back-and out for these, this city, containing upwards of two hundred thousand inhabitants, would inevitably be submerged and destroyed. Four great canals run across the city in parallel curved lines, and, crossing these, are a series of other canals, converging in the harbor like the lines of a fan. Large basins occur here and there at intervals. The buildings in the best parts of the city are magnificent-many of them of great age, bearing rich and grotesque ornamental work on their fronts. You would scarcely believe that the soil under these majestic buildings was only loose sand and soft mud! Yet it is so: and it is only by means of piles of wood driven far down through the sand into the solid stratum beneath, that a foundation has been gained. Hence Erasmus said of Amsterdam, that the inhabitants, like crows, lived on the tops of trees. Any one who merely pays a passing visit to Amsterdam, as I did, cannot fail to be thrown into a state of perplexity and maze by the apparent inextricable complicity of the city, its innumerable bridges, its endless succession of canals and interminable brick streets. The canals and the bridges so much resemble each other, that the stranger without a guide feels as if he were wandering in a labyrinth; he loses all recollection of the points of the compass; and, as I did, he will soon, probably, lose his way. The most interesting public building in Amsterdam is the Stadthouse, formerly occupied by the famous Bank of Amsterdam, but now used as a royal palace. The great feature of its interior is its grand hall, lined with white Italian marble, said to be the finest hall of the kind in the world. The smaller apartments in the palace contain some fine modern Dutch paintings, to which the public are freely admitted. One painting, representing the hero, Van Speyk, applying the match to blow up his vessel, at Antwerp, rather than allow it to be taken by the Belgians, is one that lives long in the memory of him who has seen it. To those who have leisure, the Museum, or National Picture Gallery, is well worthy of a visit. But pictures can be seen at home, and are no novelty. The real interest of Amsterdam is in its streets, its quays, its bustle and commerce, its bridges and canals, and the many striking and peculiar features of this city of the sea -features which are nowhere to be found characteristic of any city in Europe, north of Venice."- Friends' intelligencer, 1854.