Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and one of the most popular tourist cities in Europe. It is located in the western part of the country and is a major cultural, historical and economic center.
Amsterdam is known for its beautiful canals, Golden Age style architecture, museums and rich history. One of the most popular places to visit is the Van Gogh Museum, where you can see the works of the famous artist Vincent Van Gogh. Another famous museum, the Rijksmuseum, offers a wide range of art, including famous paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer.
The first mention of Amsterdam was on October 27, 1275, when Count Floris V of Holland granted the inhabitants of a fishing village who had built a bridge with a dam on the Amstel River an exemption from the payment of bridge tolls. This document mentions both “the people living near the dam on the Amstel” and the name of their settlement – already similar to the modern one.
Amsterdam acquired city rights at the very beginning of XIV century, so by Dutch standards, it is not the most ancient city. His “golden age” began only in the XVII century, already after the proclamation of Dutch independence from the Spanish Empire of the Habsburgs and the first victories in the long war for independence, called the “Eight decades” (1568-1648).
Amsterdam seems to have taken over the baton from the previous centuries’ favorites, the rich trading cities of Antwerp and Bruges. Port of Amsterdam could accommodate up to 150 seagoing ships and hundreds of ships of small tonnage, its population by the end of XVII century, reached 200,000 people.
In Amsterdam “golden age” everything was subordinated to business interests. The authorities of the city fought hard to maintain order – those poor people who are recognized as “worthy”, provided social assistance, while others were sent to forced labor. Special servants made sure that no poor or dirty people roamed the city, and that garbage was cleaned up and removed on time. There were many hotels for visiting merchants, the banks of Amsterdam provided such a variety of services that were admired by foreigners, even the Italians (the pioneers of banking), the French and the British.
The Wisselbank of Amsterdam, founded in 1609, was for a long time the largest bank of Northern Europe. The lending rate of the Amsterdam bankers, considerably lower than in the rest of Europe, attracted many customers to Amsterdam. New warehouses were rapidly built in the city, and Amsterdam traded with the rest of the world. Above the city hall was a figure of Atlas with the globe on his shoulders, and below – on a pedestal – the nations of the world offered their goods to the allegorical figure of Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam Exchange, which was built in 1608-1613, had a large scale. merchants from all over the world could be found at the Amsterdam Exchange, where one could buy any kind of merchandise and charter any vessel.
The religious tolerance exhibited by Amsterdam in the 17th century attracted many wealthy immigrants to the city. Jews who fled from the persecutions of the Inquisition, the Germans fleeing the scourge of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), Huguenots from France and even Catholics from England found not only shelter here, but also the opportunity to become full citizens. The Amsterdam authorities flatly refused to follow the example of the rest of Europe and create ghettos for Jews.
The ease of local manners was widely known. Thus, the English consul wrote of “houses” where “lascivious persons of both sexes” met unhindered. A quarter of “merry houses” also appeared near the port. But all these establishments were under the strict control of the authorities and paid their taxes.
Religious tolerance also favored the creation of Amsterdam’s fabulous wealth. The city became the capital of free European book printing, which brought considerable income at that time.
The capital of the Netherlands has also seen hard times, but traditions have been preserved – tolerance towards newcomers, strict control over the order and the ability to extract profit from any circumstances and today inherent in this unique city.
The historic layout of Amsterdam has been preserved for centuries. From the 17th century the city, created by the dam on the Amstel River, is a major commercial, administrative and transport center.
Amsterdam, now called the Venice of the North or New Babylon, continues to delight tourists as it did centuries ago.
Historic center of Amsterdam – Dam Square, grew on the site of an ancient dam, from which it got its name. On the square in the XVII century were built the main buildings of the city – the City Hall and the Amsterdam Exchange, and rebuilt after the fire Nuivekerk Church, which was visited by the city authorities and the most influential citizens and where at present coronate the Dutch monarchs. Here, on Dam Square, all imported and exported goods were weighed on the city scales and duties were levied for the benefit of the country and Amsterdam itself.
Today the former town hall building on Dam Square is called the Royal Palace and is one of the three residences of the Royal Family in Amsterdam. Built in 1655, the building was supposed to represent the power and wealth of the city. But since 1808, when Napoleon’s brother Louis Bonaparte, made King of the Netherlands by the Emperor of France, resided here, this magnificent palace belonged to the royal family.
From Dam Square along Damrak you can walk to the Central Station, which has long been a landmark in its own right. From the station depart the famous canals of Amsterdam, which gave it the proud name of Venice of the North. Canals cross hundreds of bridges, among which a lot of ancient bridges have survived.
The quarter of the Grand Canals in the center of Amsterdam (within which Dam Square is located) is surrounded by the most famous canals “Defensive” (Singel), “Canal of the Lords” (Heerengracht), “Imperial” (Kaisergracht), “Canal of the Princes” (Prinsengracht). Canals and rivers divide the city into 90 islands.
The religious tolerance of the residents of Amsterdam is reflected in the city’s many churches. There are Protestant and Catholic churches, a synagogue and even a mosque reserved exclusively for women! The oldest Gothic church in Amsterdam, the Audekerkerk (1306) offers organ concerts, the Renaissance Westerkerk Church (1619) is the burial place of Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669) and the old Portuguese synagogue (1675) was the largest in the world when it was completed.
Amsterdam is a city of museums. The State Museum Rijksmuseum contains paintings of the great Dutch artists of the “golden age” – Franz Hals, Rembrandt Van Rijn, Vermeer of Delft and Jacob van Rijsdal. Here is Rembrandt’s famous painting, The Night Watch (1642), which, after restoration in 1947, was called The Day Watch. It turned out that the soot of the centuries had distorted the coloring of the picture. But the new name somehow didn’t stick – the painting is still called “Night Watch”. There are 20 Rembrandt paintings in the Rijksmuseum – more only in the Hermitage. The Rembrandt House Museum, where Rembrandt lived from 1639 to 1656, has a restored historical setting and displays etchings by the artist himself and paintings by his contemporaries.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam can display the world’s largest collection of works by the great artist – there are about 200 of his paintings and 580 drawings.
No guidebook on Amsterdam mentions the Red Light District and coffee shops, but this is a tribute to the stereotypical preferences of some tourists. A much greater pleasure can be obtained by taking an independent walk along Amsterdam’s canals or by renting a bicycle – there are special lanes, traffic lights and parking lots, and code locks are issued. And taking a two-wheeler out into the suburbs of Amsterdam is an exclusive bonus to a trip to the city.
- Official name: Amsterdam, capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
- Language: Dutch.
- Religion: Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Hinduism, and other religions.
- Currency: Euro.
- Main sea port: Amsterdam.
- The most important airport: Schiphol International Airport.
- The largest rivers: Amstel and Eij.
- Area: 219.07 km2.
- Population: 761,395 (2009).
- Population density: 3,475.6 people/km2.
- Ethnic composition: Dutch and Friesians, as well as immigrants. There are 177 nationalities in Amsterdam (2009).
- The first mention: 1275.
Climate and weather
- Moderate, maritime.
- Average temperature in January: +0,5 ºC … +5.4°C, in July: +12.5°C … +21.4 ºС, the average annual precipitation – 760 mm.
- The largest center of financial and banking services.
- Headquarters of many multinational corporations.
- The Amsterdam stock exchange is one of the largest in the world.
- Enterprises of electrical industry and mechanical engineering, aircraft building, shipbuilding, chemical and woodworking industry, oil refining, the center of diamond cutting and trade, light industry.
- Royal Palace.
- Schreyerstoren, Montelbahnstoren and Muntoren towers.
- Blaubbrug and Magere Brug bridges.
- Dam Square.
- Leidseplein Square, the center of nightlife.
- The complex of buildings of the East India Company.
- Shipbuilders House.
- Dwellings of the 16th and 17th centuries.
- Churches of Nieuwiekerk, Audekerk, Westerkerk, Südkerk, Nordkerk.
- Portuguese synagogue.
- Amstelkring cathedral.
- Rijksmuseum (National Museum).
- Vincent Van Gogh Museum.
- Hermitage on Amstel.
- Dutch Historical Museum.
- Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art.
- Rembrandt House Museum.
- Historical Museum of Amsterdam.
- Tropical Museum.
- Anne Frank House.
- Cabinet cats.
- Jewish Historical Museum.
- Stoper – a complex that includes the Music Theatre, the Amsterdam Main Opera House – stage of the Opera Netherlands, the National Ballet Company and the National Symphony Orchestra.
- Diamond workshops appeared in Amsterdam back in the 16th century. Since then, Amsterdam is the unofficial “diamond capital” of the world, where the best diamonds are cut and sold. The world’s biggest diamond, the Cullinan, and the famous Cochinor were cut here.
- Most of the world trade in flowers is concentrated in Amsterdam. The largest flower auction is held in the town of Alsmeer. And every year on the first Saturday of September in Amsterdam is the “Flower Parade” – a celebration of florists and gardeners. Decorated with floral arrangements huge platforms move directly from the flower auction in the Alsmeer through the streets of Amsterdam to Dam Square.
- The Tulip Museum in Amsterdam not only tells all about these beautiful flowers, but also sells bulbs. However, the museum is closed from January 1 to May 1.
- According to legend, Amsterdam was founded by two fisherman brothers who miraculously escaped during a storm – they were thrown ashore at the confluence of the rivers Hey and Amstel. The brothers decided to stay in the place of their salvation, moved their families here, and thus a fishing village appeared.