Wednesday October 27, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Amsterdam
On this Day:
In 1275, the City of Amsterdam was founded. However, any suggestion that this was the first time people had been eating Dutch cheese at or near the present location of Amsterdam are all wet.
Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands with a population of 872,680 within the city proper, 1,558,755 in the urban area and 2,480,394 in the metropolitan area. Found within the province of North Holland, Amsterdam is colloquially referred to as the “Venice of the North”, due to the large number of canals which form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Amsterdam was founded at the Amstel, which was dammed to control flooding; the city’s name derives from the Amstel dam. Originating as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, and became the leading centre for finance and trade. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded and many new neighborhoods and suburbs were planned and built. The 17th-century canals of Amsterdam and the 19–20th century Defence Line of Amsterdam are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Sloten, annexed in 1921 by the municipality of Amsterdam, is the oldest part of the city, dating to the 9th century.
Amsterdam’s main attractions include its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, the Concertgebouw, the Anne Frank House, the Scheepvaartmuseum, the Amsterdam Museum, the Heineken Experience, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, Natura Artis Magistra, Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam, NEMO, the red-light district and many cannabis coffee shops. It drew more than 5 million international visitors in 2014. The city is also well known for its nightlife and festival activity; with several of its nightclubs (Melkweg, Paradiso) among the world’s most famous. Primarily known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system and narrow houses with gabled façades; well-preserved legacies of the city’s 17th-century Golden Age. These characteristics are arguably responsible for attracting millions of Amsterdam’s visitors annually. Cycling is key to the city’s character, and there are numerous bike paths.
The Amsterdam Stock Exchange is considered the oldest “modern” securities market stock exchange in the world. As the commercial capital of the Netherlands and one of the top financial centres in Europe, Amsterdam is considered an alpha world city by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) study group. The city is also the cultural capital of the Netherlands. Many large Dutch institutions have their headquarters in the city, including: the Philips conglomerate, AkzoNobel, Booking.com, TomTom, and ING. Moreover, many of the world’s largest companies are based in Amsterdam or have established their European headquarters in the city, such as leading technology companies Uber, Netflix and Tesla. In 2012, Amsterdam was ranked the second best city to live in by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and 12th globally on quality of living for environment and infrastructure by Mercer. The city was ranked 4th place globally as top tech hub in the Savills Tech Cities 2019 report (2nd in Europe), and 3rd in innovation by Australian innovation agency 2thinknow in their Innovation Cities Index 2009. The Port of Amsterdam is the fifth largest in Europe. The KLM hub and Amsterdam’s main airport, Schiphol, is the Netherlands’ busiest airport as well as the third busiest in Europe and 11th busiest airport in the world. The Dutch capital is considered one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with at least 177 nationalities represented.
A few of Amsterdam’s notable residents throughout history include: painters Rembrandt and Van Gogh, the diarist Anne Frank, and philosopher Baruch Spinoza.
Due to its geographical location in what used to be wet peatland, the founding of Amsterdam is of a younger age than the founding of other urban centers in the Low Countries. However, in and around the area of what later became Amsterdam, local farmers settled as early as three millennia ago. They lived along the prehistoric IJ river and upstream of its tributary Amstel. The prehistoric IJ was a shallow and quiet stream in peatland behind beach ridges. This secluded area could grow there into an important local settlement center, especially in the late Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Roman Age. Neolithic and Roman artefacts have also been found downstream of this area, in the prehistoric Amstel bedding under Amsterdam’s Damrak and Rokin, such as shards of Bell Beaker culture pottery (2200-2000 BC) and a granite grinding stone (2700-2750 BC). But the location of these artefacts around the river banks of the Amstel probably point to a presence of a modest semi-permanent or seasonal settlement of the previously mentioned local farmers. A permanent settlement would not have been possible, since the river mouth and the banks of the Amstel in this period in time were too wet for permanent habitation.
The origins of Amsterdam is linked to the development of the peatland called Amestelle, meaning ‘watery area’, from Aa(m) ‘river’ + stelle ‘site at a shoreline’, ‘river bank’. In this area, land reclamation started as early as the late 10th century. Amestelle was located along a side arm of the IJ. This side arm took the name from the eponymous land: Amstel. Amestelle was inhabited by farmers, who lived more inland and more upstream, where the land was not as wet as at the banks of the downstream river mouth. These farmers were starting the reclamation around upstream Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, and later at the other side of the river at Amstelveen. The Van Amstel family, known in documents by this name since 1019, held the stewardship in this northwestern nook of the ecclesiastical district of the bishop of Utrecht. The family later served also under the count of Holland.
A major turning point in the development of the Amstel river mouth is the All Saint’s Flood of 1170. In an extremely short period of time, the shallow river IJ turned into a wide estuary, which from then on offered the Amstel an open connection to the Zuiderzee, IJssel and waterways further afield. This made the water flow of the Amstel more active, so excess water could be drained better. With drier banks, the downstream Amstel mouth became attractive for permanent habitation. Moreover, the river had grown from an insignificant peat stream into a junction of international waterways. A settlement was built here immediately after the landscape change of 1170, and right from the start of its foundation it focused on traffic, production and trade; not on farming, as opposed to how communities had lived further upstream for the past 200 years and northward for thousands of years. The construction of a dam at the mouth of the Amstel, eponymously named Dam, is historically estimated to have occurred between 1264 and 1275. The settlement first appeared in a document concerning a road toll granted by the count of Holland Floris V to the residents apud Amestelledamme ‘at the dam in the Amstel’ or ‘at the dam of Amstelland’. This allowed the inhabitants of the village to travel freely through the County of Holland, paying no tolls at bridges, locks and dams. By 1327, the name had developed into Aemsterdam.
The 17th century is considered Amsterdam’s Golden Age, during which it became the wealthiest city in the western world. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to the Baltic Sea, North America, and Africa, as well as present-day Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Brazil, forming the basis of a worldwide trading network. Amsterdam’s merchants had the largest share in both the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company. These companies acquired overseas possessions that later became Dutch colonies.
Amsterdam was Europe’s most important point for the shipment of goods and was the leading financial centre of the western world. In 1602, the Amsterdam office of the international trading Dutch East India Company became the world’s first stock exchange by trading in its own shares. The Bank of Amsterdam started operations in 1609, acting as a full-service bank for Dutch merchant bankers and as a reserve bank.
Amsterdam’s prosperity declined during the 18th and early 19th centuries. The wars of the Dutch Republic with England and France took their toll on Amsterdam. During the Napoleonic Wars, Amsterdam’s significance reached its lowest point, with Holland being absorbed into the French Empire. However, the later establishment of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 marked a turning point.
The end of the 19th century is sometimes called Amsterdam’s second Golden Age. New museums, a railway station, and the Concertgebouw were built; in this same time, the Industrial Revolution reached the city. The Amsterdam–Rhine Canal was dug to give Amsterdam a direct connection to the Rhine, and the North Sea Canal was dug to give the port a shorter connection to the North Sea. Both projects dramatically improved commerce with the rest of Europe and the world. In 1906, Joseph Conrad gave a brief description of Amsterdam as seen from the seaside, in The Mirror of the Sea.
Shortly before the First World War, the city started to expand again, and new suburbs were built. Even though the Netherlands remained neutral in this war, Amsterdam suffered a food shortage, and heating fuel became scarce. The shortages sparked riots in which several people were killed. These riots are known as the Aardappeloproer (Potato rebellion). People started looting stores and warehouses in order to get supplies, mainly food.
On 1 January 1921, after a flood in 1916, the depleted municipalities of Durgerdam, Holysloot, Zunderdorp and Schellingwoude, all lying north of Amsterdam, were, at their own request, annexed to the city. Between the wars, the city continued to expand, most notably to the west of the Jordaan district in the Frederik Hendrikbuurt and surrounding neighbourhoods.
Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 and took control of the country. Some Amsterdam citizens sheltered Jews, thereby exposing themselves and their families to a high risk of being imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. More than 100,000 Dutch Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps, of whom some 60,000 lived in Amsterdam. In response, the Dutch Communist Party organized the February strike attended by 300,000 people to protest against the raids. Perhaps the most famous deportee was the young Jewish girl Anne Frank, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. At the end of the Second World War, communication with the rest of the country broke down, and food and fuel became scarce. Many citizens traveled to the countryside to forage. Dogs, cats, raw sugar beets, and tulip bulbs—cooked to a pulp—were consumed to stay alive. Many trees in Amsterdam were cut down for fuel, and wood was taken from the houses, apartments and other buildings of deported Jews.
Many new suburbs, such as Osdorp, Slotervaart, Slotermeer and Geuzenveld, were built in the years after the Second World War. These suburbs contained many public parks and wide-open spaces, and the new buildings provided improved housing conditions with larger and brighter rooms, gardens, and balconies. Because of the war and other events of the 20th century, almost the entire city centre had fallen into disrepair. As society was changing, politicians and other influential figures made plans to redesign large parts of it. There was an increasing demand for office buildings, and also for new roads, as the automobile became available to most people. A metro started operating in 1977 between the new suburb of Bijlmermeer in the city’s Zuidoost (southeast) exclave and the centre of Amsterdam. Further plans were to build a new highway above the metro to connect Amsterdam Centraal and the city centre with other parts of the city.
The required large-scale demolitions began in Amsterdam’s former Jewish neighborhood. Smaller streets, such as the Jodenbreestraat and Weesperstraat, were widened and almost all houses and buildings were demolished. At the peak of the demolition, the Nieuwmarktrellen (Nieuwmarkt Riots) broke out; the rioters expressed their fury about the demolition caused by the restructuring of the city.
As a result, the demolition was stopped and the highway into the city’s centre was never fully built; only the metro was completed. Only a few streets remained widened. The new city hall was built on the almost completely demolished Waterlooplein. Meanwhile, large private organizations, such as Stadsherstel Amsterdam, were founded to restore the entire city centre. Although the success of this struggle is visible today, efforts for further restoration are still ongoing. The entire city centre has reattained its former splendour and, as a whole, is now a protected area. Many of its buildings have become monuments, and in July 2010 the Grachtengordel (the three concentric canals: Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht) was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In the 21st century, the Amsterdam city centre has attracted large numbers of tourists: between 2012 and 2015, the annual number of visitors rose from 10 to 17 million. Real estate prices have surged, and local shops are making way for tourist-oriented ones, making the centre unaffordable for the city’s inhabitants. These developments have evoked comparisons with Venice, a city thought to be overwhelmed by the tourist influx.
Construction of a new metro line connecting the part of the city north of the IJ to its southern part was started in 2003. The project was controversial because its cost had exceeded its budget by a factor three by 2008, because of fears of damage to buildings in the centre, and because construction had to be halted and restarted multiple times. The new metro line was completed in 2018.
Since 2014, renewed focus has been given to urban regeneration and renewal, especially in areas directly bordering the city centre, such as Frederik Hendrikbuurt. This urban renewal and expansion of the traditional centre of the city—with the construction on artificial islands of the new eastern IJburg neighbourhood—is part of the Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 initiative (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
It is a well-known fact that eggs-benedict taste better in Amsterdam. Apparently, it is due to the Holland-daze…
Second, a Song:
“Withlocals, the marketplace for unique travel experiences with local experts. Worldwide.
Why Withlocals? Because we want to brighten up the world by connecting cultures and creating unique & personal travel stories.
We connect travelers & locals in cities all over the world. Together they create unique & personal travel experiences – experiences worth sharing.”
“Martijn Van der Sanden is on his second trip as Withlocals reporter, to discover the real Amsterdam, the one the locals love. This is the first video of this special Withlocals Series ‘Discover the real Amsterdam: do’s don’ts and local tips’ ” (per YouTube.com).
Here is Withlocals video on The Top 10 BEST things to do in Amsterdam, handpicked by the locals. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Amsterdam lives and breathes creativity. One moment you walk into a building from the 17th century, and the next you find yourself in a hub of creative start-up companies.” – Marcel Wanders
Further to the Stonehenge Smile, Greg Bilinsky of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada writes:
When Diana and I were at Stonehenge, she had to buy a t-shirt that said: “I was at Stonehenge. It rocks.”
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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