© Cor Snabel
If you compare Amsterdam with other European cities, Amsterdam is a relatively "young" city. Let's be honest, by the time Amsterdam started to look like something more than a village of fishermen, Paris had its first university and Venice was already sending trading-ships to China.
Actually the soil where the city was built on, was absolutely unsuitable, swampy peat, which was raised with rubble and sand. All houses were built on wooden piles and subsoil water was held down with cow's skin, sewed together to one large blanket under the basement floor.
I remember the renovation of a building in the center of Amsterdam, where I was by virtue of my profession and where it was absolutely forbidden to drill in the basement floor. The skin was still intact and if it got damaged, the whole floor had to come out in order to replace it by a modern subsoil water barrier.
Practically all the first houses were build of wood and like all cities Amsterdam had its "city fires". When the fire of 24th May 1452 destroyed 75% of the city, thatched roofs were forbidden and the side walls had to be made out of brick. Wooden fronts and back facades were allowed, because in case of fire, those could easily be pulled down, but it was only in 1521 the city council ordered, that new houses built within the city-walls should be made out of stone. Amsterdam still has two wooden houses left, one of those on the Begijnhof.
The average house in the 16th century had four rooms, one high livingroom at the front, in the back two stories, downstairs the kitchen and upstairs the sleeping/livingroom and the attic. The front facade of these old houses are often built like it is bending over a little, it is not exactly vertical. This was done to protect the facade and the windows. Merchants often had their merchandise stored at the attic and if it was hoisted up, the chances of damaging the front of the house were limited.
Behind the house was the cesspit, a simple wooden case with a lid. Under the lid was a wooden barrel or a stone pit with an opening ending up in the canals. From time to time this pit had to be emptied. Archeologists love these cesspits, because people used to throw or drop all kind of implements in it.
Till 1579 Amsterdam was a city in the dark, after nightfall it was very hard to find your way through town: nowhere was light. It happened a lot that people fell into the canals, so the City Council decided in 1579, that lanterns would be placed on every bridge. Sixteen years later they ordered, that every twelfth house should have a lantern on the front.