December 10, 2007

Amsterdam side trips (Part 3a) – Rotterdam

Rotterdam is only an hour away from Amsterdam but it's centuries away from both in appearance and personality. Unlike Amsterdam, Rotterdam retains traces of its ancient history in only one tiny section, Oude Haven (Old Harbour). World War II takes the blame for that. Almost the entire inner city was destroyed during a bombing raid on May 14, 1940, and in 1944 Nazi occupation forces sent demolition squads to finish off the entire harbour. By the end of the war, Rotterdam was utterly devastated. Immediately after the end of the war, reconstruction began in earnest. Rotterdam owes it contemporary image to this rebuilding – a spacious feel, modern and courageous architecture. Today Rotterdam is a bustling metropolis of over one million with the largest port in Europe.

I arrived in Rotterdam by train at about 2.30pm. First thing I did was to visit the tourist information centre near the Central Station and the helpful lady suggested I take a walking tour since I only had about three hours. She gave me a route map, with descriptions of some of the places of interests.

Ever since it opened in 1953, Lijnbaan has been the busiest shopping street in Rotterdam. It was Europe's first predestrianised shopping area. Nowadays it offers a choice of large stores and small boutiques, with well-known brand names and chains such as Diesel, Esprit and Mango. Nearby Stadhuisplein, with its many bars and pavement cafes, is a popular place for Rotterdammers to gather. The war memorial, Monument voor de gevallenen, consists of two men, a woman and a child, representing the past, present and future, is a tribute to the people of Rotterdam who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the country.

Linjbaan shopping street & Monument voor de gevallenen

Opposite Stadhuisplein is the City Hall. Queen Wilhelmina laid the foundation stone for the City Hall on July 15, 1915. The monumental building has a symmetrical design, constructed around a courtyard, with the main entrance in the middle. Walking down Coolsingel from the City Hall is the bottle green Beurs/WTC. Built in a functionalist style, it was the first building to be restored after the war. The World Trade Centre, the superstructure of the 90-metre high stock exchange building, dates back to 1986.

Lost between towering office blocks is the Het Schielandshuis, the oldest building in the city. Named after the Dyke Board of Schieland, which moved into the premises in 1665, the building with Dutch classicism with baroque details has been gloriously restored and now houses the Historical Museum. It shows off Rotterdam's cultural heritage through displays of paintings, silverware and furnitures.

Left - Right: City Hall, Beurs/WTC, Het Schielandshuis

Behind the shopping street of Hoogstraat is the Grote Kerk or Sint Laurenskerk (St. Lauren's Church), named after the patron saint of the city. Built between 1449 and 1525, St Laurenskerk is the only building from the Middle Ages still standing in Rotterdam. During the bombing raid of 14 May 1940 most of the church was destroyed, but it was rebuilt after the Second World War and opened again to the public in 1968. A stone's throw away from the Laurenskerk, in Grotekerkplein, is the oldest statue in the Netherlands, the statue of Desiderius Erasmus. The university, the largest hospital in the city and a bridge is also named after the humanist and philosopher, born in Rotterdam in 1468.

At the end of Hoogstraat, the Blaak metro station with its roof suspended from a massive steel arch, resembling a flying saucer comes into view. Next to the metro station is the geometric chaos of quirky apartments known as the Kijk-Kubus (Cube Houses). Set on concrete stilts and tilted at a crazy angle, each house has three floors. Residents have specially designed furniture to fit the sloping rooms.

(to be continued…)

1 comment:

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