History of Amsterdam

13th Century

Amsterdam owes its name to a dam that was constructed in the river Amstel (dam in the Amstel). In the 13th century, the Amstel ran through the Amstelland. To protect the land from the water, dykes were constructed along the Zuiderzee and the IJ. In the mouth of the Amstel a dam was built. Part of the Amstel as we know it today could have been dug. This became the basis for a trading post that would eventually become the powerful trading city of Amsterdam. Archaeological surveys along the west bank have yielded the remains of the oldest known houses of Amsterdam, dating from 1225 (now Nieuwendijk).

14th Century

In the early 14th century Amsterdam received city rights, and the first church was built, the beginning of what is now the Oude Kerk (Old Church). In those days Amsterdam had some 1,000 inhabitants, increasing to 3,000 by the end of the 14th century.

15th Century

In the 15th century there were large city fires in Amsterdam, which burned down a large part of the city. From then on, wooden facades and thatched roofs were no longer permitted because of fire hazard. The houses kept their wooden skeletons, though.

16th Century

In the 16th century the low countries turned against the Reformation and their Spanish ruler in what became known as the Eighty Years War. As a result, the 17 provinces were split in two, with the Netherlands as the northern part and Belgium as the southern part. The southern part remained catholic and after the fall of Antwerp, Amsterdam acquired the position of main trading city in the region. An era of prosperity began: the Golden Age.

17th Century

In the 17th century, Amsterdam became the biggest shareholder in the United East Indies Company VOC. In addition to the VOC, the Exchange Bank and several big stores were also established. As a result, Amsterdam not only became the most prominent trading city but also Europe’s financial centre. In the Golden Age, art also flourished with the most famous painter of the time, Rembrandt, and the population grew from 30,000 to 210,000. Also in the 17th century, an epidemic of the plague broke out in Amsterdam, taking 24,148 lives, over 10 per cent of the population.

18th Century

Until the end of the 18th century, trade with the East Indies and with France and England ensured a high level of commercial activity. Amsterdam’s Silver Age ended when the 4th English War broke out and the French occupied the country.

19th Century

In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France, and from 1810 onward his power extended to the Netherlands, making Amsterdam the third largest city of the empire. Silting of the access routes for ships reduced trade considerably, as did the wars with France and England. After the French were expelled in 1813, The Hague was chosen as residence for the Oranges. Amsterdam remained the capital of the Netherlands, together with Brussels between 1815 and 1830.

It was not until 1824, with the opening of the North Holland Canal by King William I, that shipping traffic increased again.

After the Belgian uprising in 1830, Amsterdam regained monopoly in trade with the colonies, and big infrastructural works improved the position of the sea port (North Holland Canal and North Sea Canal).

Renovation of trade, industry and new forms of commercial activity led to a population explosion, from 180,000 in 1810 to 520,000 in 1900.

20th Century

In the 20th century the economy expanded further, and some sources speak of a second Golden Age. The population also continued to grow, to some 757,000 inhabitants by 1930.

The Second World War, lasting from 1940 to 1945, was the city’s greatest tragedy. Some 110,000 inhabitants of Amsterdam were killed or died as a result of the war, 75,000 Amsterdam Jews did not survive the war. The world’s most famous Jewish person in hiding, Anne Frank, lived on Merwedeplein until she and her family went into hiding on Prinsengracht. Due to betrayal, she was discovered in 1944. She died of exhaustion and/or Typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The hunger winter took a high toll in the country’s largest city. Partly as a result of the railway strike in early September 1944, 20,000 people died. Amsterdam was insufficiently supplied. After the war, the general expansion plan was implemented, creating new areas of habitation around Amsterdam.

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