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There are few places in the world that have such famous red light areas as Amsterdam and the city has a long association with tolerance and liberal mindedness. In our essential guide to Sex in Amsterdam , we take a look at the history of the red light area, the legalisation of prostitution and some of the highlights that the city has to offer: from the top escort services and massage parlours, to the best sex shows and strip clubs…. This nickname refers to the fact that the original site of Amsterdam was fortified by large earth walls.
As the city has grown, the original site continued to be referred to as The Wall and, because of the links with prostitution, the phrase has become a euphemism when paying for sex. Sprawling out from the original location of the docks, De Wallen is a network of small passageways and alleys connecting the two main streets of Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal which run alongside the canals.
Blood Street Bloedstraat and Monk Street Monnikenstraat for instance were so called due to the number of Franciscan monks who lived there and being the site of a blood torture chamber of a former monastery. The characteristic window hookers began to appear in the early 20 th century. As long as the curtains were drawn or enticingly half drawn , the girls could give a fabulous preview of what they were offering without breaking any public decency or solicitation laws and the art of window shopping was born.
Window cabins in the red light district. Image via Flickr. Some believe that the practice derives from the lamps carried by railway workers being left outside a brothel whilst others believe the term comes from the use of red lights by prostitutes to illuminate their chambers. The claim goes that the red lanterns would conceal blemishes and signs of disease better than natural light. Some believe that the term refers to red Chinese paper lanterns or the drawing of a red line around districts that were known for their association with the sex trade.
Despite its reputation for being the world capital of the sex industry, prostitution has only recently been legalised in modern day Amsterdam. Prior to a change in the law in , it was illegal to operate a brothel but being a prostitute was legal. By remaining independent and renting space for one, window girls could legally operate as they were not technically plying their trade publicly but being approached in a private way.