The story of this great Northern European city is a long and interesting one. Amsterdam emerged from a small fishing village, as most other cities along a waterway do, to become one of the world’s powerhouses of culture and good living.
Its meager beginnings took place in the 12th century. Where the fisherman living on the shores of the River Amstel built a dam to prevent the village from flooding. A little later the area became known as Amsterdam. Then, in 1358, the town joined the Hanseatic League and began to gain prominence as a trading center in the north of Europe.
Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, Amsterdam became known for its specialized grain and arms trade. Following the opening of a local office by the King of Portugal, the town became a base for the resale of spices from India.
The Eighty Years’ War
In 1578, after a long period of unrest between the citizens of Amsterdam wanting religious freedom and the nobility wanting more political power, the residents of the city gave their support to William I of Orange to revolt against the Spanish Habsburgs. The 80 years’ war started with the uprising driven by William the Taciturn. The final declaration of independence of the Dutch was reached in 1648.
During the 1600s, Amsterdam became a leader in the banking industry, having founded one of Europe’s first banks. It became essential for its development of trade and commerce, and during the next century, it became a powerful financial center, with its stock market one of the first to work daily.
The headquarters of the Dutch East India Company was also established in 1602.
The Golden Age
The 1700s saw magnificent buildings begin to spring up, along with such notable figures as Rembrandt, Spinoza, and Descartes. The tolerance of the Dutch people allowed many expelled Jews from other parts of Europe to take refuge in the city and consequently became the hub of an international center for precious stones and metals.
By the end of the century, the Dutch Republic lost a lot of its power over its colonies to England and lost its political power to The Hague.
The Capital of the Netherlands
Napoleon’s invasion of the Netherlands in 1810 created the Kingdom of Holland, and the capital was moved to Amsterdam. Later, when the French were defeated, King William I took power and the United Kingdom of the Netherlands included Belgium and Luxembourg. Not long after, the latter two counties gained their own independence.
During WWI, the Netherlands remained neutral. However, during WWII, their neutrality was broken by the invasion of the Nazi Germans in 1940. Approximately 100,000 Jewish citizens were taken to various extermination camps.
Today, this great city has retained and flourished its mantra of tolerance and freedom. Rotterdam has become the country’s most important harbor and The Hague in the Netherlands ‘ economic capital. But Amsterdam remains a shining star in Northern Europe. With many visitors to Europe flying through its major airport hub, it has maintained its cultural importance and is still a major industrial city.