Jews first came to Amsterdam around the year 1600 and thrived in a city famous for its religious tolerance, until the Nazi occupation. The Jewish quarter (or Jodenbuurt), lying east of the Amstel River, contains a wealth of landmarks, markets, and important museums.
Start at the (1) Jewish Historical Museum (Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1; www.jhm.nl). “The museum inhabits four restored 17th- and 18th-century synagogues, so the complex itself is part of the Dutch Jewish heritage,” says Daniel Bouw, head of communications, Jewish Historical Museum. The permanent exhibit tells the intertwined story of the Jews and Amsterdam, since the 17th century; there is also a children’s wing and a kosher café that is one of the best local spots for lunch.
Just across the Mr. Visserplein square from the Museum is the (2) Portuguese Synagogue (Mr. Visserplein 3; www.esnoga.com). “It’s a magnificent building dating from 1675, and its sheer size says something about the visibility of the Jewish community in Amsterdam; they didn’t feel they had to hide,” says Bouw. The Portuguese Jewish community continues to worship in the austere landmark, which still has no central heating or electricity.
Virtually outside the Synagogue’s front doors to the west is the sprawling (3) Waterlooplein, a long-running, open-air flea market that was the central 19th-century market for the Jewish community; these days it is better known for cheap CDs and blue jeans.
Exit the market on the Jodenbreestraat, turn north, and you will come to (4) Rembrandt’s House Museum (Jodenbreestraat 4; www.rembrandthuis.nl). The recently restored manor, where the painter lived and worked at the height of his local success, contains a room filled with the classical busts and tribal spear Rembrandt used as props. The well-stocked museum gift shop features reproductions of the artist’s work.
Turn right after exiting, walk half a block, and then cross the bridge to the Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat, until you come to the (5) Gassan Diamonds building (Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 173-75), home to a prominent diamond-cutting factory. Guided tours offer demonstrations on how diamonds are cut and classified.
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