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THC Ministry, Amsterdam - Amsterdam City Info


City and port, western Netherlands, located on the IJsselmeer and connected to the North Sea. It is the capital and the principal commercial and industrial centre of The Netherlands.

To the scores of tourists who visit each year, Amsterdam is known for its historical attractions, for its collections of great art, and for the distinctive colour and flavour of its old sections, which have been so well preserved. The visitor to the city, which celebrated its 700th anniversary in 1975, also sees an overcrowded metropolis beset by the familiar urban afflictions of environmental pollution, traffic congestion, and housing shortages. It is easy to describe Amsterdam as a living museum of a bygone age and to praise the eternal beauty of the centuries-old canals, the ancient patrician houses, and the atmosphere of freedom and tolerance, but the modern city has yet to work out its own solutions to the pressing urban problems that confront it.

Amsterdam is the nominal capital of The Netherlands but not the seat of government, which is at The Hague. The royal family, for example, is only occasionally in residence at the Royal Palace on the Dam square in Amsterdam. The city lacks the monumental architecture found in other capitals. There are no wide squares suitable for big parades, nor are there triumphal arches or imposing statues. Amsterdam's intimate character is best reflected in the narrow, bustling streets of the old town, where much of the population still goes about its business. There are reminders of the glorious past--the gabled houses, the noble brick facades clad with sandstone, the richly decorated cornices, the towers and churches, and the music of carillons and barrel organs--but the realities of life in the modern city often belie this romantic image.

Physical and human geography

The landscape - The city layout

Amsterdam is situated at the mouth and on the south side of the IJ, an inland arm of the former Zuiderzee, now IJsselmeer, and connected by canal with the North Sea. It is divided by the canalized Amstel River into two main sections.

The medieval town lies on either side of the Amstel at the city's centre, enclosed by the semicircular Singel (ditch or moat). Outside the Singel are the three main canals dating from the 17th century: the Herengracht (Heren Canal), Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. Within this area smaller canals run north and south. One tower (the Schreierstoren) of the old fortifications still stands.

The old part of Amsterdam has many ancient buildings, among which the Old Church (Oude Kerk), built in the 13th century, and the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk), begun in the 15th century, are outstanding. Next to the New Church is the 17th-century town hall, now the Royal Palace, built in classical Palladian style. Other notable buildings include the Mint Tower (Munttoren), with a 17th-century upper part superimposed on a medieval gate; the South Church (Zuiderkerk, 1611); the West Church (Westerkerk, 1631), where Rembrandt is buried; the Trippenhuis, housing the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences; and the Old Man's House Gate (Oudemanhuispoort), now the entrance to one of the University of Amsterdam's main buildings. The Sint Nicolaas Church (1886), the Central Station (1889), the Beurs (the bourse, or Commercial Exchange Building, 1903), and the Shipping House (1916) are more modern in style. The former Jewish quarter, in the east of the old town, is the location of the Portuguese Synagogue (1670) and the Rembrandt House (Rembrandthuis), which is now a museum. The old town's three main squares are the Dam, the Leidseplein (Leidse Square), and the Rembrandtsplein. Fine 17th- and 18th-century patrician houses line the canals.

In the 17th century the Buitensingel (Outer Moat), today called the Singelgracht (Singel Canal), enclosed the three main canals. Along it now run three quays: the Nassaukade (Nassau Quay), Stadhouderskade, and Mauritskade. Buildings outside the Singelgracht date from the late 19th century onward and include the Rijksmuseum (State Museum, 1876-85); the Concertgebouw, or Concert Hall (home of the Concertgebouw Orchestra); the Stedelijk, or Municipal, Museum (1895); the Olympic Stadium (1928); and the Amstel Station (1939).


Early settlement and growth

Although modern historians do not exclude the possibility that during the Roman period some form of settlement existed at the mouth of the Amstel River, evidence of such has never been found. So far as is known, Amsterdam originated as a small fishing village in the 13th century AD. To protect themselves from floods, the early inhabitants had to build dikes on both sides of the river, and about 1270 they built a dam between these dikes.

Even then, merchant ships from Amsterdam sailed as far as the Baltic Sea and laid the foundation of the future trade centre, acting as a link between northern countries and Flanders (roughly modern Belgium). The city was under the jurisdiction of the counts of Holland, one of whom, Count Floris V, granted the homines manentes apud Amestelledamme ("people living near the Amsteldam") a toll privilege in 1275. In this document the name Amsterdam is mentioned for the first time, though a full charter was not granted until 1306. The city rapidly extended its business, and in 1489, as a sign of gratitude for the support given by the city to the Burgundian-Austrian monarchs, Emperor Maximilian I allowed Amsterdam to adorn its armorial bearings with the imperial crown. By then Holland's greatest commercial town and port, as well as the granary of the northern Netherlands, Amsterdam had become a centre of wealth and influence in Europe.

In the 16th century there was religious and political resistance in the Netherlands against Spanish oppression. Amsterdam hesitated to accept the leadership of William I the Silent, prince of Orange, but in 1578 there was a bloodless revolution. The magistrates, together with the majority of Roman Catholic priests, were deported, the religious communities were secularized, and the Roman Catholic Church underwent reform.

Amsterdam was still a small town with no more than about 30,000 inhabitants, but things changed quickly, especially when, in 1585, Antwerp (in modern Belgium) was recaptured by Spanish troops, and the Scheldt (Schelde) River was closed. Antwerp's fall led to a wholesale influx of mainly Protestant refugees into the towns of the northern Netherlands, principal among them Amsterdam. Their arrival enriched the city's intellectual, cultural, and commercial life. Banking and shipbuilding especially flourished. Much of the trade formerly concentrated in Antwerp then moved to Amsterdam, and with the Flemish merchantmen soon came hundreds of Jews expelled from Portugal, followed by their coreligionists from the area of modern Germany and eastern Europe. The city soon became a trading metropolis, whose population more than trebled between 1565 and 1618; merchant ships from Amsterdam not only sailed to the Baltic and the Mediterranean but also plied the long sea route to the East Indies and established colonies in South America and southern Africa.

At this time, the still outwardly medieval town developed into a big city, and in 1612 the City Council decided upon a new extension--the Three Canals Plan. Furthermore, the city needed a new and stately town hall, and the architect Jacob van Campen was commissioned to build one in the Dam square in the shadow of the New Church. In 1632 the Athenaeum Illustre (which became the University of Amsterdam in the 19th century) was erected. When, in 1648, the Treaty of Münster ended the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648) with Spain, Amsterdam was the financial, trading, and cultural centre of the world, lending money to foreign kings and emperors and thus exerting political influence internationally.

Conflict between the City Council and other political forces in the Dutch Republic was inevitable because the country was effectively no longer ruled by the States General in The Hague but by a small elite of burgomasters and merchants in Amsterdam. This situation led to political difficulties with William II, prince of Orange, who in 1650 planned to besiege the city. Amsterdam, nevertheless, maintained its dominant position for many years. Decline gradually came in the 18th century; London and Hamburg surpassed Amsterdam as trade centres, but the city remained the financial heart of Europe. Amsterdam was occupied in 1787 by the Prussians who backed the policy of William V, prince of Orange. The French, welcomed as liberators in 1795, brought freedom, but within a few years trade and shipping nearly stopped because of Napoleon's embargo on trade with Britain. In 1806 Napoleon proclaimed the Netherlands a kingdom, with Amsterdam as its capital, but by 1810 the country was incorporated into the French Empire. Russian Cossacks entered the town in 1813, and, on March 30, 1814, William VI, prince of Orange, was inaugurated as William I, king of The Netherlands, in Amsterdam's New Church.


One of the earliest descriptions of Amsterdam may be found in Lodovico Guicciardini, The Description of the Low Countreys and of the Provinces Thereof (1593, reprinted 1976; originally published in Italian, 2nd ed., 1581). More exact details are in Johannes Pontanus, Historische beschrijvinghe der seer wijt beroemde coop-stadt Amsterdam (1614; originally published in Latin, 1611); Philipp Von Zesen, Filips von Zesen Beschreibung der Stadt Amsterdam (1664); and in Jan Wagenaar, Amsterdam, in zyne opkomst, aanwas, geschiedenissen, voorregten, koophandel, gebouwen, kerkenstaat, schoolen, schutterye, gilden en regeeringe, 23 vol. (1760-1801). See also John J. Murray, Amsterdam in the Age of Rembrandt (1967, reissued 1972). A modern history of the city was written by Hajo Brugmans, De geschiedenis van Amsterdam van den oorsprong af tot heden, 8 vol. in 4 (1930-33). The rise of the city during the Netherlands' Golden Age is covered by Violet Barbour, Capitalism in Amsterdam in the Seventeenth Century (1950, reissued 1963). Many details of cultural life in the 17th century are presented by Pierre Descargues in Rembrandt et Saskia à Amsterdam (1965). Works dealing with specific aspects are A. Van Der Heyden and Ben Kroon, The Glory of Amsterdam: An Explorer's Guide (1975; originally published in Dutch, 1975); and Ids Haagsma et al., Amsterdamse gebouwen, 1880-1980 (1981), on architecture; J.J. Van Der Velde, Stadsontwikkeling van Amsterdam 1939-1967, also with an English summary (1968); Amsterdam. Town Planning Section, Amsterdam, Planning and Development: Rise, Spatial Development, Structure, and Design (1975), on town planning in modern times; and G.H. Knap, The Port of Amsterdam (1970; originally published in Dutch, 1969). The best guides for tourists are Hendrik F. Wijnman, Historische gids van Amsterdam (1971); Bryce Attwell, Amsterdam (1968), with parallel English, Dutch, German, and French texts; Geoffrey Cotterell, Amsterdam: The Life of a City (1972); and Baedeker's Amsterdam (1982), a guide in English.

source : Encyclopaedia Brittanica