By Scott Roane
Amsterdam’s Red-Light District has been a key attraction in the city since the fifteenth century, when sailors visited to satisfy themselves after lonely months at sea. But with over 60 of the red-light windows losing their permits in January 2011 alone, time is running out for you to experience the seedy excitement that attracts millions of tourists to this historic part of the city each year.
Known locally as The Wallen, the district is located in the oldest part of the city, close to Central Station. The well-preserved, mainly 17th-century buildings crowd together in small alleys or overlook tree-lined canals. As darkness falls, the crowds of tourists and locals swell, and the glow of the fluorescent red lights above the many windows turn it into a sexy wonderland.
A new law passed in 2003 made it possible for the police to uncover a number of serious criminal groups who were using the Wallen for money laundering and people trafficking. Because of this, the city council is trying to shake off the sleazy and outdated image of The Wallen and fulfill their ambition to turn the area into an attractive gateway to the city.
Prostitutes are being offered permits for windows in other neighborhoods across the city. Those Wallen windows where illegal activities have been uncovered have already been closed down. The empty windows will be transformed into ateliers for artists, quality restaurants and bars, or display windows for up-and-coming designers, attracting tourists, the city council hopes, for a very different purpose.
It may take a couple of years before the windows disappear completely, but if you want to witness this 600-year-old tradition in all its glowing red glory, then you’ll have to act fast.
Part of a NileGuide Special Report: 25 Destinations to See Before They Change Forever.
Image courtesy of Amsterdam Toerisme & Congres Bureau