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It consists of a network of alleys containing approximately three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights and blacklight.
Window prostitution is the most visible and typical kind of red-light district sex work in Amsterdam. De Wallen, together with the prostitution areas Singelgebied and Ruysdaelkade , form the Rosse Buurt red-light areas of Amsterdam.
Of these De Wallen is the oldest and largest area. It is one of the city's major tourist attractions and the government of Amsterdam is examining ways to limit tourist numbers. The area also has a number of sex shops , sex theatres , peep shows , a sex museum , a cannabis museum, and a number of coffee shops that sell cannabis. The Rokin and Damrak run along the original course of the river Amstel. These two roads meet in Dam Square which marks the spot where a bridge was built across the river in It had doors which were used to dam the river at certain times to avoid flooding.
The Damrak then became a harbor and it was around this area that the red-light district first appeared. The walled canals led to the names De Wallen and Walletjes little walls. Historically because of proximity to the harbor the area has attracted both prostitution and migrant populations and these are the features it is best known for today.
From late Medieval times, the trade started to be restricted. Married men and priests were forbidden to enter the area. In during the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule a Protestant city board was formed with fornication deemed punishable.