The construction of the Zeedijk (literally: sea dike) at the beginning of the 13th century meant that Amsterdam — then still called Aemstelledam — was no longer regularly flooded.
The Zeedijk later became part of a system of dikes that protected the city from the wild waters of the IJ and the Zuiderzee — a shallow but large arm of the North Sea through which ships reached Amsterdam.
The protection and safety provided by the dikes helped Amsterdam to develop into an important port and business city.
The Zuiderzee later became the IJsselmeer when a dam, completed in 1932, separated the inlet from the sea. This dam, the Afsluitdijk (literally: barrier dike), was necessary to prevent the rare but catastrophic flooding when strong storms pushed the North Sea water into the shallow inlet.
The port of Amsterdam continued to be connected to the North Sea, first by the Noordhollands Kanaal (North Holland Canal), completed in 1825, and later by the Noordzeekanaal (North Sea Canal), officially opened in 1876.
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The Zeedijk is part of the Chinese quarter of Amsterdam (note that the street signs in this area are in both Dutch and Chinese) and also marks one of the boundaries of the Red Light District.
There are many authentic buildings here, as well as original and restored gables. It is home to one of two remaining wooden houses in Amsterdam (Zeedijk 1, dating from 1550), bars and pubs, fashion stores, restaurants and eateries and even a Buddhist temple.
Highs and Lows
In the 17th century, the houses in and around the bend of the Zeedijk — roughly between numbers 31 and 44 — were one of the most prestigious places to live for rich merchants. When they later moved to the Herengracht, the Zeedijk and its surroundings slowly transformed into a center for nightlife, entertainment and prostitution.
In the 1970s and early 80s, the Zeedijk was a center of the illegal street trade in drugs. The presence of desperate junkies, pickpockets, muggers and other violent criminals made “De Dijk” (the dike) — as the street is called in the neighborhood — a no-go area for many people. Many locals moved away, while several bars and other businesses closed and later reopened as seedy dungeons that attracted even seedier customers.
in 1985, under pressure from the neighborhood, the city took action. In cooperation with several private parties, it founded an organization that bought up stores, bars and houses, restored them and then rented them out to reputable business people. The police regularly ‘swept’ the Zeedijk and the surrounding area clean. To this day, the Zeedijk is one of many places that the police keep an eye on with the help of a camera surveillance system.
After the downward spiral was broken, the Zeedijk became a popular street again. The many stores, boutiques, tokos, restaurants and pubs make it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
This metamorphosis was at least one of the inspirations for the recent efforts to thoroughly clean up the entire red light district.
As city councilor Lodewijk Asscher — one of the driving forces behind these plans — says, the city wants to reclaim the historic city center to “give it back to the Amsterdammers”
Where to Find Zeedijk
The easiest way to find the Zeedijk is from the Central Station (marked in blue on the map below). With your back to the main entrance of the station (currently a construction pit for the new metro line), you are looking onto the Damrak — the boulevard that leads to Dam Square. If you imagine the face of an analog clock, you are looking at the large white building at 11:00.
On the building it says “Jesus Loves You” in large blue neon letters.The Zeedijk starts just to the left of it. (Tip: get something to eat or drink at the restaurant ‘Dwaze Zaken’ on the corner. Good food, good value for money. The quality of the coffee is mediocre, but the tea is good, and there is also an excellent selection of good beers. The place is run by a Christian ministry, but in the 7 or 8 years we’ve eaten here, no one has ever mentioned God, Jesus or the Bible to us)
Tip: The restrooms here are something of a tourist destination. Bring your camera. Trust us on this point.
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