Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The largest city in Holland (The Netherlands) and its capital, is world-famous “Amsterdam”. It is the financial and cultural capital of the Netherlands. It is also the headquarters for most Dutch institutions and 7 of the world’s top 500 countries including Philips and ING. Amsterdam is located in North Holland in the western portion of the country. Amsterdam boasts over a million people (2008) and merged with the northern part of the Randstad, is the 6th largest metropolitan area of Europe at over 6.7 million in population. Amsterdam is most popular for its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, its red light district, and its many cannabis coffee shops all of which draw over 4.2 million visitors a year. Amsterdam is named after a dam in the river “Amstel” where the Dam Square resides today. It started as a small fishing village in the late 12th century later becoming one of the most important port cities in the world during the Dutch Golden Age due to its innovative developments in trade. At this time it became a leading center for finance and diamonds. It was named as such when the inhabitants of the area built a bridge with a dam across the Amstel had been exempted from paying a bridge toll by Count Floris and had to bound together as a city. By 1327 it was well known as “Amsterdam”. Amsterdam was granted city rights by 1306.
From the 14th century onwards it flourished due to trade with the Hanseatic League. By 1345 an alleged Eucharistic miracle in the Kalverstraat rendered the city an important place of pilgrimage until altered by the Protestant faith. In the 16th century the Dutch rebelled against Philip II of Spain and his successors to fight the new taxes, the tenth penny, and the religious persecution of Protestantism by the Spanish Inquisition. The revolt turned into the 80 Year’s war which led to Dutch Independence. Strongly pushed by the Dutch Revolt leader William the Silent, the Dutch Republic became known for its relative religious tolerance. Jews, Huguenots, prosperous merchants, printers, economic and religious refugees flocked to the area. Because of all the Flemish printers and the city’s intellectual tolerance, Amsterdam became a center for the European free press. By the 17th century, Amsterdam reached its Golden Age and became the wealthiest city in the world. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to the Baltic Sea, North American, Africa, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Brazil forming the basis of a worldwide trading network. Amsterdam’s merchants had the largest share in both the VOC (Dutch East India Company) and the WIC (Dutch West India Company). Amsterdam became Europe’s most important port for the shipment of goods and leading financial center. By 1602 the world’s first stock exchange was established here by trading its own shares. From 1623-1625 Amsterdam lost 10% of its population to the plague and again in 1635-1636 as well as 1655 and 1664. Regardless its population rose in the 17th century from 50,000 to over 200,000. The city’s prosperity declined during the 18th and 19th centuries with the wars of the Dutch Republic with England and France. During the Napoleonic Wars, Amsterdam’s significance reached its lowest point when Holland was absorbed into the French Empire. With the establishment of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 Amsterdam was back to a rise in popularity. It expanded the greatest during the 19th and 20th centuries. Amsterdam hit its 2nd Golden Age at the end of the 19th century with the construction of new museums, a train station, and the Industrial Revolution. The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal was dug to give a direct connection to the Rhine and the North Sea Canal dug for a shorter connection to the North Sea. Both projects dramatically improved commerce with the rest of Europe and the world. By 1906 Joseph Conrad was describing Amsterdam as being seen from the seaside in the Mirror of the Sea. With World War I, the city expanded and new suburbs built followed by a food and fuel shortage sparking riots called the Aardappeloproer (Potato Rebellion) killing several people, causing looting for food. By 1940 Germany invaded the Netherlands and took control of the country, installing their Nazi civilian government in Amsterdam leading to prosecution of the Jews. While many citizens sheltered the Jews – more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were deported to concentration camps with only 5,000 surviving the war. By the End of WWII, communication broke down and food/fuel became scarce again causing rioting, looting, and foraging where citizens ate dogs, cats, raw sugar beets, and cooked tulip bulbs to survive. Most of the trees in the area were demolished for fuel as well as the wood in the Jewish quarter. After the war, over 120,000 Dutch were prosecuted for their collaboration with the Nazis. New suburbs were developed such as Osdorp, Slotervaart, Slotermeer, and Geuzenveld that contained many public parks, open spaces, and new buildings to improve the city. After the war and the tragedies that befell Amsterdam in the 20th century, the entire city center fell into disrepair and had to be redesigned. With a new necessity of office buildings, roads, and businesses – the metro started in 1977 from Bijlmer to Amsterdam, a new highway was designed to sit above to metro was designed to connect the central station and city center with other parts of the city. Large scale demolitions began in the Jewish Neighbourhoods with smaller streets like the Jodenbreestraat being widened. During the reconstructions and demolitions, the Nieuwmarktrellen (Nieuwmarkt riots) broke out with citizens angry about what was taking place, putting the demolitions to a standstill and the highway was never built, only seeing completion to the metro thereby only widening a few streets. The buildings that were destroyed, were replaced by controversial modern designs that Amsterdam citizens love and hate. Today the primary form of transportation and getting around (just as it is in most of Holland) by bicycle.