Holland vs Netherlands

Online sightseeing of The Netherlands.

Amsterdam 400 years of canals

Before 1613 Amsterdam was a humble 13th-century fishing village on a river bed. The last 400 years it changed into its current role as a major hub for business, tourism and culture. Amsterdam has had a strong tradition as a centre of culture and commerce.


When the last millennium was still quite young, a handful of adventurers came floating down the river Amstel in hollowed-out logs. Out of the marshlands and swamps surrounding the Amstel River, a structure of dams and dikes was forged – the first of which is marked by the Dam square at the heart of the city today. These canny “Aemstelledammers” began exacting toll money from the passing beer and herring traders of the roaring Eastern Sea Trade of the Baltics. They quickly became expert boat builders and brewers; attracting more interest in the emerging town. In 1275, Count Floris of Holland formalised these activities by granting special toll privileges to the merchant town and in 1300 the town got its first charter.

The right to free passage proved to be crucial for the economic development of Amsterdam. Free passage meant that traders could operate cheaply. In particular, beer and herring proved popular commodities. For example, in 1323 Amsteldam owned the exclusive right to import beer from Hamburg.
Trade picked up in the Golden Age. Traders brought grain, wood, iron, copper from the East-sea. By ship they sailed between Denmark and Sweden to Danzig (Poland) to buy these goods. From warehouses in Amsterdam these goods were sold to other european countries. The earnings paid for the Dutch resistance (80-year war) against Spain.
When the Spaniards conquered Antwerp, many rich Jews fled to Amsterdam. The money they brought with them was used to organise trips to India, which proved a huge commercial success. Then in 1602, the Dutch East India Company was founded it became the first multinational company in the world. With all these trades going on a period of unprecedented prosperity, causing the 17th century to become known as the Golden Age.

With this prosperity the city underwent two massive urban expansions, and for the first time both functionality and beauty were taken into consideration. The results were the now-famous canals and the Jordaan district. The art scene was also flourishing at this time. In the first half of the 17th century, the number of artists grew enormously and there was an explosion of art and art dealers in Amsterdam. Within just thirty years, Amsterdam became a thriving cultural city, leaving a legacy of Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen.

At the end of the 17th century, the Amsterdam economy came to a standstill, resulting in a period of decline and increasing poverty. But with the construction of the North Sea Canal (1876), Amsterdam finally had a direct connection to the sea. From that moment on steamships became part of everyday life in Amsterdam’s port. It was a turning point for the city. Thanks to trade with the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Amsterdam acquired an important position in the world spice trade. The diamond trade with South Africa also began to evolve at this point.
That new period of prosperity is reflected in the construction of monumental, architectural masterpieces. In 1889, Amsterdam’s Central Station was completed. A few years later, the Concertgebouw, Theatre Carré and Hotel Americain followed.

Last century
The 20th century began well. The Amsterdam School, an idealistic architecture movement, provided low-cost housing around the old city. The city also expanded to include Schiphol Airport, which still remains the home of Dutch national carrier KLM – the oldest airline in the world.
Although the Netherlands remained neutral during World War I, a serious food shortage befell the country and products had to be rationed. During the crisis years (1934) a revolt broke out. Protests took place against the reduction of unemployment benefits; for many people the only source of income. World War II caused little physical damage to the buildings and infrastructure of Amsterdam. But starvation during the period did take many lives, and as a result of the persecution of the Jews, the city lost ten percent of its inhabitants.
After the war, many original Amsterdammers left for satellite towns like Purmerend, Hoorn and Almere. At the same time, an influx of Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan immigrants boosted the city’s population. Amsterdam is now home to more than 780,000 residents from 180 different countries.


For private tours through Amsterdam contact www.hollandprivatetour.com


  • 400 years of Amsterdam’s canals / all year.
  • Reopening Rijksmuseum / 14 April 2013.
  • 125 years of the Concertgebouw / beamed in and around the building audio and video segments.
  • 125 years of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / visiting 65 cities around the world and 71 ‘home’ concerts.
  • 175 years of Artis Royal Zoo / zoo, playground, back garden and park filled with flowers.
  • 150 years since the abolition of slavery / 1 July 2013, 150 years since Dutch slavery was abolished in the former colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.
  • 100 years of the Frans Hals Museum / jubilee exhibition will present 50 key masterpieces
  • The Netherlands and Russia in 2013 / Hermitage Amsterdam – celebrating close ties between Russia, the Netherlands and Amsterdam.
  • 225 years of Felix Meritis – Opened in 1788, Amsterdam’s most affluent citizens who shared an interest in art and science were keen to visit this icon on the Keizersgracht. In mid-April 2013, the building’s unique Observatory will once again open to the public.
  • 40 years and the reopening of the Van Gogh Museum / opening May 2013 mark the 40th anniversary of the Van Gogh Museum.

…and YOUR invited!

2 comments on “Amsterdam 400 years of canals

  1. Relationship Remedy
    January 15, 2013

    as always i love reading your news – thanks stefka. it is my way of reconnecting with my history and i get to feel very dutch. xxx

  2. SarahJP13
    November 10, 2013

    Dude. SO much cool information, here!! I can’t wait, til I can one day visit… One day….

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This entry was posted on January 15, 2013 by in Cities, History, What to do in... and tagged , , , .


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