History of Amsterdam

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Amsterdam has always been a well-known name in world history. In the 17th century Amsterdam was the centre of world economy, but nowadays the city is known for its tolerant character.

Early Amsterdam

Holland in the 12th century was barely habitable. The land was very humid and consisted mainly of peat. Various rivers intersected the landscape. One of those was River Amstel, which flowed into River IJ. By the end of the twelfth century a small settlement arose near a dam in this river. Thanks to this dam the city is called Amsterdam. Apart from that, this dam is still the most important place in the city, but it is now used as a square. Amsterdam became a town at the beginning of the 13th century, after the then sovereign lord declared it juridical as a town.

Meanwhile the town extended slowly from the centre around the Dam. Various ramparts were thrown up and canals were dug. Around 1420 the town was too small again. On the eastern part a new wall was built along the present Geldersekade and Kloveniersburgwal. On the Westside a moat canal was dug. The economy at that time was not really developed: the Amsterdam economy was based on beer and herrings. It was only after Amsterdam became a part of the Burgundian Empire during the 15th century that things began to go faster. Amsterdam's harbour had a stable function: fish from the south and grain from the Baltic countries were traded in Amsterdam's markets. Because of the economic prosperity Amsterdam developed into Holland's largest city, with a population of about 30,000.

During the second half of the 16th century, Europe had to deal with reformation. The Low Countries seceded from Spain after the Eighty Years' War, putting aside Catholicism. For a long period Amsterdam was allied with the Spaniards, but in 1578 Amsterdam was finally united with the rest of the Netherlands as one of the newest cities. Holland was one of the most tolerant regions in Europe during this period. For that reason, many Protestants and Portugues Jews who were persecuted elsewhere in Europe moved to cities in Holland. A large number of merchants from Antwerp resumed their business in Amsterdam, which meant a big boost for the local economy.

Golden Age

The Dutch were forced to find their own route to the Indies because of the annexation of Portugal by Spain in 1580. The first voyages to the Indies started in Amsterdam and were a major success. Stimulated by these results plans were made everywhere in the country to send more ships to the Indies. Out of all these initiatives the United East Indian Company came into existence, the VOC. Over fifty percent of the capital from the new company was in the hands of Amsterdam. When the VOC was founded not only merchants were involved, but the citizens invested in the project as well.

The 17th century was a period of glory for Amsterdam. Wealth, power, culture and forbearance flourished in the city. The population increased rapidly during this period and because of that factor, the city extended greatly. Amsterdam built its famous ring of canals. Tall houses were built on the canals, higher than in other old city centres in Holland. The Government strongly encouraged this development, because it added to Amsterdam's prestige. During the first half of this century two churches were built: the Zuiderkerk and the Westerkerk. The old gothic town hall was burnt down in 1652 and a new town hall, the present-day Palace on Damsquare was built. The The Plaetse or the Damsquare was enlarged by a huge amount, just like the rest of the city. After the Jordaan was completed, around 1700, approximately 200,000 people were living in Amsterdam.

Culturally these days were roaring as well. Due to the economic prosperity Amsterdam, its citizens could afford to surround themselves with objets d'art. Bredero, Vondel and P.C. Hooft wrote their famous poetry, while painter Rembrandt and his students had their atelier in Amsterdam. Philosophers like Spinoza and Descartes formulated their ideas on paper.

But in locations where things are going well, mischief lies in wait. In 1672 the powerful Netherlands got involved in a war with France as well as with England. Amsterdam's harbour was inaccessible to the fleets sailing in from the Dutch Indies, and because of that the boisterous prosperity came to an end by the end of the 17th century. The structure of Amsterdam's economy changed: the city lost its position as stable market for world trade. However, money transfers became more and more important and Amsterdam became the financial heart of the world, the banker for European Monarchs who financed their expensive wars with borrowed money.

After 1850

Amsterdam moved on quietly until industrialisation also took its hold on the Netherlands. After 1850 the population in Amsterdam suddenly increased greatly: from all over the Netherlands people moved to the city in quest of employment. New residential quarters were needed, resulting in town developments like the Pijp and the Vondelpark. After 1920 the large developments with new districts in West, South and East followed. Plan Zuid by architect Berlage is still very popular. North of the River IJ new quarters also rose up.

But in 1940 one of the darkest pages in world history became a terrible reality: World War II. The population of Amsterdam was hit very hard. Amsterdam had always had a lot of Jewish inhabitants and a lot of them were deported, and did not survive. Many places, like the Anne Frankhuis and the National Monument on Damsquare, are a reminder of this horrible period. After the war Amsterdam continued growing. In the sixties the Bijlmer was built, with its high blocks of flats, and a new island in the River IJ, IJ-burg, is currently being developed. 20,000 new houses will be built here.

Amsterdam is still the undisputed cultural centre in the Netherlands with orchestras, ballet and stages, museums and galleries and two universities. Soccer plays an important role in the life of many Amsterdammers. In the seventies Amsterdam was famous once again because of Johan Cruyff and Ajax. Ajax and the Dutch national squad's victories are celebrated like real national feasts in Amsterdam. To sum up, Amsterdam is and will remain the true capital of the Netherlands!