History & Information
The city of Amsterdam began its life in the Middle Ages, when its marshlands and swamps surrounding the Amstel river were populated by a small group of fishermen. By the end of the 13th century, the Amstel was dammed at the location of today's Dam Square, giving the town its original name - Amstelredam.
Soon after, Count Floris of Holland granted the town special toll privileges, and in 1300 it received city rights from the bishop of Utrecht. With its prime location and toll privileges, Amsterdam was flourishing as a transit port, collecting tolls from passing beer and herring traders from the Baltics. Trade in wool was also booming, and the Dutch themselves became experts in seafaring. Growth was slow but steady, as Amsterdammers overcame the obstacles of building on waterlogged soil, but the city's significance as a major trading centre of Northern Europe continuously escalated.
The 14th century saw the legendary Miracle of the Host, an event which is celebrated even today as part of the Stille Omgang annual processions in Amsterdam. On 12 March, 1345 a dying man was given his last rites and the Holy Sacrament. He vomited out the Host, which was put into a fire and miraculously did not burn. This was officially recognized as a miracle by the Roman Catholic Church, and brought many pilgrims to the city.
Because of the widespread use of wood across Amsterdam's buildings, the city was particularly susceptible to fire and two massive fires swept through the city in the 15th centuries. It was decided that all new buildings must be built from stone and bricks, and only a few wooden buildings from this period remain, such as the Wooden House (Houten Huis) at Begijnhof.
The Protestant Reformation sparked a Dutch revolt against their Spanish (and Catholic) rulers, and Catholic churches in Amsterdam were ransacked by Calvinists during a period known as the Iconoclastic Fury. As a result, Amsterdam's churches are visibly bare, even today.
The continued religious intolerance and the complete lack of political power for the Dutch led to the Eighty Years' War against the Spanish led by William I of Orange. This eventually concluded with independence from the Hapsburg monarchy, as the northern provinces, including Amsterdam's Holland, signed an alliance against Spain and founded the independent United Provinces in 1579, its political seat in The Hague.
As a result, Amsterdam's former Catholic city-government was replaced by a Protestant one as part of the Alteratie. Freedom of religious belief came hand-in-hand with the new rule, but in reality, Catholic worship was forced underground - which can be seen today first-hand in the preserved secret Catholic church Our Lord in the Attic. However, the relative religious tolerance did attract many refugees, which contributed to the growth of the city, such as French Huguenots, Jewish merchants, and scientists and intellectuals from across Europe.
By the 17th century, Amsterdam had grown into a full-blown economic powerhouse, marking the dawn of the era now known as the Golden Age. The city's merchant fleet had become unparalleled, a global advantage which heralded the immense success of the world's first multinational - the Dutch East India Company. Amsterdam was at the peak of its prosperity in these years, and the city's many wealthy residents were keen on spending their riches on beautiful buildings - something which can easily be seen in the district of Jordaan, and along the canals of the Grachtengordel, which were dug in this era. This was, of course, also the brightest age for Dutch painting, and in Amsterdam the supremely talented Rembrandt van Rijn led the way. Many of his paintings, along with other masters of the age such as Johannes Vermeer, are on display in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.
Several events contributed to Amsterdam's eventual decline, from the plague to the effect of multiple wars with England and France. With the United Provinces in a particularly weak position, the pro-French Patriots seized power with the help of the French, founding the Batavian Republic in 1795. This resulted in Amsterdam coming under essentially French rule, as Napoleon sent his brother Louis Bonaparte to watch over the Dutch from Amsterdam's city hall. His presence there transformed the building to its current name - Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace).
Following Napoleon's defeat on the European stage, the Orangists returned, and William I (son of former stadtholder William V) was crowned king of King of the Netherlands. The seat of government was eventually returned to The Hague (where it has remained until today).
The industrial revolution saw several important projects in Amsterdam, such as the Amsterdam-Rijn kanaal and the Noordzee kanal, giving the city a direct connection with the Rhine and the North Sea. Several major architectural projects were completed by the end of the 19th century as well, including the Centraal Station and Concertgebouw. Architecture continued to be a focus of Amsterdam in the early 20th century, as the Amsterdam School including Michel de Klerk, Johan van der Mey, and Piet Kramer, built functional new districts for the city.
The Netherlands remained neutral through World War I. During the global economic downturn of the 1930s, riots broke out in Amsterdam. The uprising became known as the Jordaan riots, and it's said that the streets of Jordaan were paved to prevent protesters from hurling rocks from the streets at police.
Nazi Germany ignored the Netherlands' declaration of neutrality, and the country was invaded in World War II. Amsterdam's Jewish population suffered catastrophic loss in the Holocaust - a part of history familiar to many young readers through the famous diary of Anne Frank, who hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam.
In the years following the war, the city's demographics began to take a very different shape. Firstly, the city's vast Jewish population had been reduced during the Holocaust from over 100 000 to just a few thousand. In addition, many Amsterdammers left the city for surrounding towns and suburbs. This era also saw the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from countries like Indonesia, Suriname, and Morocco - cementing the city's modern identity as a multicultural metropolis.
A liberal revolution led by the city's youth occurred in the 60s as Amsterdam became a hotbed of hippy culture. The use of soft drugs was tolerated, and squatting became widespread. And while Amsterdam remains perhaps best known for its liberal social policy, in recent years its goals have undergone a clear shift. In an effort to portray Amsterdam to the world as a dynamic, modern metropolis, local politicians have pushed to clean up areas such as the Red Light District. But for most visitors to the city, Amsterdam's rich history and culture is a draw enough in itself.
Population of The Netherlands: 16.5 million Capital: Amsterdam Major language: Dutch Major religion: Christianity Life expectancy: 77 years (men), 82 years (women) Monetary unit: 1 euro = 100 euro cents Main industries: metalworking, oil refining, chemical & food-processing. GNI per capita: US $40,500 Internet domain: .nl International dialing code: +31
Historians believe that the Low Countries, the low-lying area including present-day Netherlands and Belgium, was first inhabited by tribal groups at least 370 000 years ago. The region underwent a fundamental shift in 57 BC when the Romans arrived, and it was during this Roman era when a freethinking local tribe known as the Batavians rose up against its rulers and fought for independence - a story which throughout history remained in the rhetoric of Dutch freedom fighters.
By the end of Roman rule in 410 AD, several distinct Germanic peoples had rose to significant power - the Frisians, Low Saxons, and Franks. The Franks, who emerged as most powerful, are responsible for the first roots of the Dutch language. By the 8th century, the entire Low Countries had adopted Christianity.
The Franks eventually came under rule of the Carolingian empire of Charlemagne, only to be partitioned to the Holy Roman Empire in 962. City and county-based kingdoms arose, particularly the prominent County of Holland. These independent provinces became engaged in over 100 years of instability and violence as part of the Hook and Cod Wars, until the Duke of Burgundy united these disparate communities in 1433 creating the blueprint for the place we now know as the Netherlands.
The Dutch were absorbed into the sprawling Hapsburg empire with the crowning of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. Under his rule, the lands of present-day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of Germany and France were granted some autonomous freedom and became known as the Seventeen Provinces.
Dutch history was changed forever upon the arrival of the the Protestant Reformation, which reached the Low Countries via Anabaptists and Calvinists in the 16th century. Fervently Catholic Philip II pointed the Spanish Inquisition in the direction of the Dutch, who responded by destroying icons in Catholic churches - a revolt known as the Iconoclastic Fury.
But for the Hapsburgs, it was more than just religious zeal - the Seventeen Provinces were just beginning their most prosperous Golden Era, and the region was of enormous economic value to the empire. Led by William the Silent, Prince of Orange (and incidentally the founder of the Dutch royal family), the Dutch fought back, igniting the Eighty Years' War in 1566.
The northern part of the Seventeen Provinces joined together against the Spanish army, by declaring independence as the the United Provinces. Each of the seven provinces, which included Holland (the most prosperous), had its own autonomous government, which was represented in the Hague by a descendent of the House of Orange - a stadtholder.
The United Provinces thrived during these years - an era which has now become known as the Golden Age. The Dutch were amongst the most wealthy in Europe, and the country was the most socially, culturally, and economically advanced. Seafaring continued to be the primary source of Dutch prosperity, and a formidable command of the sea was the foundation of the Dutch Empire. Capitalizing on an international network of trading posts from Indonesia to South Africa, the Dutch East India Company (est. 1602) flourished. The world's largest commercial enterprise was also the first multinational corporation, and was financed by the first modern stock exchange - which itself experienced the first stock market crash, famously fueled by speculation in tulips. In addition to its economic prosperity, the Golden Age has become famous for its arts, culture, and humanities. This was the time of Rembrandt and Vermeer - a peak moment for Dutch painting.
A series of wars with the English (who were major rivals in trade and naval power) and the French throughout the late 17th and 18th centuries eventually brought an end to the dazzling wealth of the Golden Age. The Fourth Anglo-Dutch War from 1780-1784 ended particularly disastrously for the Dutch, marking the end of their era as economic powerhouse and international naval power. With growing unrest between the middle class Patriots and the Orangists, stadtholder William V retreated to England and a French-supported Batavian Republic, named after that legendary tribal uprising in 69AD, was established in 1795.
Napoleon Bonaparte approved the creation of a supervised Kingdom of Holland in 1806, but when things didn't go exactly his way, the Kingdom was simply absorbed into the French Empire. As Napoleon withdrew following his defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, the Dutch scrambled to appoint an appropriate government with former stadtholder William V at the throne of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. During this period the northern Netherlands was united with the Austrian Netherlands, but this unification did not last long - both Belgium and Luxembourg gained independence by the end of the 19th century.
In 1848, William II agreed to democratic reform, and the Dutch constitution was rewritten to transfer powers to an elected parliament, transforming the Netherlands into what it is today - a constitutional monarchy.
The Netherlands remained neutral during World War I, though this didn't come without its costs - including severe food shortages. Nazi Germany ignored the Netherlands' declaration of neutrality in World War II, and after fierce bombings of the Hague and Rotterdam, a decision to avoid further devastation was made - the Dutch surrendered and the land was overrun by Nazis in a matter of days. Roughly 100 000 Dutch Jews were wiped out in the Holocaust. The Netherlands was eventually liberated by the Canadian Army in 1945, and the royal family was able to return from its exile in the UK and Canada.
Conflict in Indonesia saw the country's eventual independence 1949 as the Dutch reluctantly withdrew, bringing with them a mass migration of roughly 300 000 Dutch-Indonesians to the Netherlands, a key moment contributing to the Netherlands' present-day multicultural identity.
Slowly, economic prospects grew brighter after the pain of post-war rebuilding, and in the 60s and 70s the Dutch were eager to embrace liberal ideals in social and cultural spheres, promoting women's rights, sexual freedom, and environmental concerns. The tolerant nature of the Netherlands' social policy was cemented in the 90s by a coalition of socialist and liberal parties, who reformed drug policy (particularly regarding marijuana), legalized prostitution, and decriminalized abortion and euthanasia. In 2001 the Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage with the Same-Sex Marriage Act.