Amsterdam is famous as a centre of debauchery and vice!
With sultry tourist attractions like the Amsterdam Striptease Workshop and the Amsterdam Burlesque Workshop it is no surprise Amsterdam has a raunchy reputation. Amsterdam’s Red Light Districts are world famous, and hundreds of years old.
Today the city’s tourist industry offers tours and nights out in this infamous den of vice – but how much is hype?
Doe Amsterdam really deserves its reputation, or is this all marketing for activities like the Amsterdam Striptease Workshop and Amsterdam Burlesque Workshop? We’re taking a look at Amsterdam’s history to find out.
The Red Light District dates back to the middle ages.
Amsterdam’s largest and most popular Red Light district, De Wallen, has held a reputation as a den of iniquity since the Middle Ages. De Wallen’s proximity to Amsterdam’s harbour made attracted sailors with cheap housing, and in turn this led to the establishment of prostitution, grog shops and “bawdy houses” – 16th and 17th century party houses.
However Amsterdam has not always had a tolerant attitude toward the prostitution. In the late medieval period married men and priests were forbidden to enter De Wallen. During the late 16th century the Protestant city council passed a law making fornication illegal.
However prostitution did not disappear, it merely retreated into brothels and clubs. In the 18th century the city council continued to tacitly condone prostitution, which often occurred in the gambling houses that were popular in the city at that time. The authorities continued to publicly condemn prostitution, while tolerating it providing it was not a visible part of the city’s culture.
In the 19th Century Amsterdam’s sex trade became more visible.
During the French occupation of the early 19th century Amsterdam’s sex trade became more visible. French soldiers were the main customers of prostitutes during this period, and the French Imperial military decided to institute a compulsory health check.
Healthy prostitutes were given a red card to signify that they were permitted to work. During the next century or so prostitution would continued to be viewed with a liberal and tolerant attitude, but in the early 20th century religious groups began to pressurise the city council and community to adopt a more critical attitude toward sex work.
A 21st century revival.
In the early 21st century Amsterdam is seeing another swing back toward public tolerance of prostitution. Tourist workshops like the Amsterdam Burlesque Workshop and the Amsterdam Striptease Workshop is a sign of deliberate efforts by tour and holiday companies to market these notorious districts to tourists.
Burlesque in and of itself is an example of how Amsterdam is swinging back toward an accepting attitude toward vice. During burlesque’s heyday in the 19th century, these kinds of performances were actually fairly uncommon in Amsterdam.
It is only since 2003 that burlesque shows have begun to be more common, with two separate clubs opening just over a decade. So does Amsterdam deserve its reputation as a city of vice? Today, just as hundreds of years ago, that very much depends on who you are asking!