From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
Alternate meanings: See Amsterdam

Canals of the Jordaan neighbourhood


Location of Amsterdam

The Netherlands
North Holland
739,295 (1 January 2005)
4°54'E - 52°22'N
Job Cohen

Amsterdam, () the capital of the Netherlands, lies on the banks of two rivers, the IJ and the Amstel. Founded in the late 12th century as a small fishing village on the banks of the Amstel, it is now the largest city in the country and its financial and cultural centre. As of 2005, the population of the city proper is 742,209; the population of the greater Amsterdam area is approximately one and a half million.

Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres in Europe, dating largely from the 17th century, the Golden Age of the Netherlands, of which it was the focal point. At this time, a series of concentric, semi-circular canals was built around the older city centre, which still define its layout and appearance today. Many fine houses and mansions are situated along the canals; most are lived in, others are now offices, and some are public buildings. Some of the narrow brick houses are gradually sinking because they are built on piles to cope with the marshy subsoil.

The city is noted for many outstanding museums, including the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, Rembrandt House Museum, the Anne Frank House, and its world-class symphony orchestra, the Concertgebouworkest, whose home base is the Concertgebouw. Notable are also its red-light district, de Wallen, and its numerous "coffee shops" selling cannabis.

Although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, it is neither the capital of the province in which it is located, North Holland (which is Haarlem), nor the seat of government (which is The Hague).



Main article: History of Amsterdam

Legend has it that Amsterdam was founded by two Frisian fisherman, who landed on the shores of the Amstel in a small boat with their dog. Amsterdam was founded as a fishing village in the 13th century. The damming of the river Amstel gave it its name. It was given city rights in 1300 or 1301. From the 14th century on, Amsterdam flourished, largely on the basis of trade with the cities of the Hanseatic league.

Dam Square in the late 17th century: painting by Jan Adriaensz. Berckheyde (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)
Dam Square in the late 17th century: painting by Jan Adriaensz. Berckheyde (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)
Historical centre
Historical centre

The 16th century brought a rebellion by the Dutch against Philip II of Spain and his successors, escalating into the Eighty Years' War which ultimately led to Dutch independence. The Dutch Republic became known for its relative religious tolerance and Jews from Spain and Portugal, prosperous merchants from Antwerp (economic and religious refugees from the part of the Low Countries still controlled by Spain), Huguenots from France (persecuted for their religion) sought safety in Amsterdam. It was the rich, refined migrants from Flanders who set the tone (their Brabant dialects became the basis of standard written Dutch) and made Holland a mercantile power.

The 17th century is considered Amsterdam's "Golden Age". In the early 17th century Amsterdam was the richest city in Europe. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to North America, Africa and present-day Indonesia and Brazil and formed the basis of a worldwide trading network. Amsterdam's merchants had the biggest share in the VOC and WIC. These companies acquired the overseas possessions which formed the seeds of the later Dutch colonies. Amsterdam was the most important point for the trans-shipment of goods in Europe and it was the leading financial center of the world. Amsterdam's stock exchange was the first to trade continuously.

The population grew from slightly over 10,000 around 1500 to 30,000 around 1570, 60,000 around 1600, 105,000 in 1622 and almost 200,000 around 1700 (a twentyfold increase in 200 years). Thereafter, the population did not change much for another century and a half. During the century before WW II it almost quadrupled, but then remained fairly constant again to this day.

An Amsterdam canal with the Waag in the background Photograph by Dirk van der Made
An Amsterdam canal with the Waag in the background

Photograph by Dirk van der Made
Statue of Anne Frank
Statue of Anne Frank

The 18th and early 19th centuries saw a decline in Amsterdam's prosperity. The wars of the Dutch Republic with the United Kingdom and France took their toll on Amsterdam. During the Napoleonic wars Amsterdam's fortunes reached their lowest point. However, with the establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, things slowly began to improve. In Amsterdam new developments were started by people like Sarphati who found their inspiration in Paris.

At the end of the 19th century the Industrial Revolution reached Amsterdam. The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal was dug to give Amsterdam a direct connection to the Rhine and the North Sea Canal to give the port a connection with the North Sea. Both projects improved communication with the rest of Europe and the world dramatically. They gave the economy a big boost. Between 1850 and 1900 population doubled to about 500.000.

The end of the 19th century is sometimes called Amsterdam's second Golden Age. New museums, a train station, and the Concertgebouw were built. Amsterdam's population grew significantly during this period.

Shortly before the First World War the city began expanding and new suburbs were built. During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. Amsterdam suffered a food shortage and heating fuel became scarce. In riots caused by the shortages several people where killed.

Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, taking control of the country after five days of fighting. The Germans installed a Nazi civilian government in Amsterdam that cooperated in the persecution of Jews. More than 80,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps, of whom perhaps the most famous was a young German girl, Anne Frank. Only 5,000 Jews survived the war. In the last months of the war communication with the rest of the country broke down and food and fuel became scarce. Many Amsterdammers had to travel to the countryside to collect food. Most of the trees in Amsterdam were cut down for fuel.

Coat of arms

The coat of arms of Amsterdam is composed of three St Andrew's crosses, aligned vertically, but rotated 90° for the flag. Historians believe they represent the three dangers which have traditionally plagued the city: flood, fire, and pestilence. The city's official motto, Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig ("Valiant, Resolute, and Merciful") which is displayed on the coat of arms, was bestowed on it by Queen Wilhelmina in 1947 in recognition of the city's bravery during the World War II.

City government

Main article: Amsterdam (municipality)

Satellite image of Amsterdam
Satellite image of Amsterdam

As all Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is governed by a mayor, his wethouders (aldermen), and the municipal council. However, unlike most other Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is subdivided into fifteen stadsdelen (boroughs), a system that was implemented in the 1980s to improve local governance. The stadsdelen are responsible for many activities that previously had been run by the central city. Fourteen of these have their own council, chosen by a popular election. The fifteenth, Westerpoort, covers the harbour of Amsterdam, has very few inhabitants and is governed by the central municipal council. Local decisions are made at borough level and only affairs pertaining the whole city (like major infrastructural projects), are handled by the central city council.


Amsterdam has two universities: the University of Amsterdam (Universiteit van Amsterdam), and the Vrije Universiteit. Other institutions for higher education include an art school, De Rietveldacademie, the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, the Hogeschool voor Economische Studies Amsterdam and the Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, which includes the Sweelinck Conservatorium. Amsterdam's International Institute of Social History is one of the world's largest documentary and research institutions concerning social history, and especially the history of the labour movement. Amsterdam's Hortus Botanicus, founded in the early 1600s, is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, with many old and rare specimens, amongst which the coffee plant that served as the parent for the entire coffee culture in Central and South America.

Java Island, in 't IJ, is known for its modern architecture.
Java Island, in 't IJ, is known for its modern architecture.

Public transportation

Public transport in Amsterdam consists of:

  • national and international train connections
  • 3 metro lines and 1 lightrail line, together the Amsterdam metro
  • 16 tram lines
  • An express tram line (IJtram)
  • 55 bus lines (not included regional and national lines)
  • several ferries for pedestrians and cyclists across the IJ (free of charge)
  • a Fast Flying Ferry towards Velsen-Zuid on the Northsea shore

A new underground line, the North/South Line (Noord/Zuidlijn) is under construction. (See also Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf, Amsterdam metro.)

Many people in Amsterdam use a bicycle to get around. Most main streets have bike paths and bike racks are ubiquitous throughout the city. In the city centre, driving a car is complicated by constant traffic jams and limited and expensive parking space.


Schiphol, about twenty minutes by train from downtown Amsterdam, is the biggest airport in the Netherlands, and the fourth largest in Europe. It handles about 40 million passengers a year and is homebase to KLM.


Amsterdam is the home town of Ajax, a team in the Dutch Football League. Its home base is the modern stadium Amsterdam ArenA, located in the south-east of the city. The team shares that facility with the Amsterdam Admirals, an American football team, which won the NFL Europe's World Bowl in 2005 for the first time.

In 1928, Amsterdam hosted the IX Olympic Games. The Olympic stadium built for the occasion has been completely restored and is now used for cultural and sporting events.

Periodic events

  • Koninginnedag, Queen's day, 30 April, the former Queen's (Juliana) birthday
  • Uitmarkt, last weekend in August, the start of the cultural season
  • Amsterdam Roots, last week of June. International music festival
  • Amsterdam Pride, mid-August, gay pride weekend
  • Amsterdam Marathon, mid-October
  • Sail Amsterdam, a five-yearly event, when tall ships from all over the world can be visited.
  • Cannabis Cup, mid-November annual cannabis competition, hosted by High Times.

Famous Amsterdammers

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

North Holland Province

Aalsmeer | Alkmaar | Amstelveen | Amsterdam | Andijk | Anna Paulowna | Beemster | Bennebroek | Bergen | Beverwijk | Blaricum | Bloemendaal | Bussum | Castricum | Den Helder | Diemen | Drechterland | Edam-Volendam | Enkhuizen | Graft-De Rijp | Haarlem | Haarlemmerliede en Spaarnwoude | Haarlemmermeer | Harenkarspel | Heemskerk | Heemstede | Heerhugowaard | Heiloo | Hilversum | Hoorn | Huizen | Landsmeer | Langedijk | Laren | Medemblik | Muiden | Naarden | Niedorp | Noorder-Koggenland | Obdam | Oostzaan | Opmeer | Ouder-Amstel | Purmerend | Schagen | Schermer | Stede Broec | Texel | Uitgeest | Uithoorn | Velsen | Venhuizen | Waterland | Weesp | Wervershoof | Wester-Koggenland | Wieringen | Wieringermeer | Wijdemeren | Wognum | Wormerland | Zaanstad | Zandvoort | Zeevang | Zijpe

Netherlands | Provinces | Municipalities| map
Personal tools