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There is a lot more to Spui than a square to look at. You have to experience it. In the heart of the university district, the Spui’s cafés and book market establish a pleasant, unhurried rhythm in this part of the city, creating a microcosm slightly reminiscent of the bohemia of yesteryear.
What is now Spui square was once only water. In the early fifteenth century, when the Singel canal was dug and built and became the city’s outer boundary, this zone was covered and converted into the square it is today. Well, without traffic lights or espresso coffee in the terrace bars, of course.
This popular meeting place for locals is of note for the Little Rascal of Amsterdam statue, which is in the centre and the work of the sculptor Carel Kneulman. This sickly character was the symbol of the Provo movement in the nineteen-sixties. The movement was the country’s first radical counterculture group and tended to organise its acts - or, to be more precise, call them as they preferred anarchy to organisation – in Spui Square.
The main appeals of the square are its terrace bars and its cafés. You can sit at them and enjoy reading the foreign press they sell here every day, have a mid-afternoon aperitif or even hold a literary gathering about the latest best-seller or great works of universal literature. You will certainly encounter the genuine atmosphere of Amsterdam at the mythical Café Hoppe, which we recommend you visit in the afternoon, as it is packed at night, or at the Café Luxembourg, with its famous decoration from 1930.
It is book lovers however that find a true place of pilgrimage in the Spui. A huge assortment of books are displayed in the book market held here every Friday: Dutch and international literature, books on cuisine, handicrafts, or philosophy. You might find something you have spent years searching for at this market, a unique copy, although to do so you will have to spend hours searching among the huge piles of books.
If you are not a very patient shopper, make it easy for yourself. The square has a number of bookshops and a couple that sell literature in English, where you will find conveniently classified and labelled material.
Perhaps you will not feel like a true book lover if your shopping is so easy. Rest assured, however, that you will find enough time for a nice cup of tea at one of the square’s terrace bars, while watching the true fanatics searching among the piles of books in the hope of finding a jewel for their library.
Amsterdam, in fact, has always had a tradition for books. In the fifteenth century, a craftsman called Coster from Haarlem was the first person after Gutenberg to print a book. As well as cafés, Amsterdam also has a huge number of bookshops.
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