History of Amsterdam

History of Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a short and eventful history. The origins of the city lie in the 13th century, when fisherman living along the banks of the River Amstel built a bridge across the waterway near the IJ, then a large saltwater inlet. Wooden doors on the bridge served as a dam; these protected the town from the IJ, which often flooded the early settlement. The mouth of the river Amstel, where the Damrak now is, formed a natural harbor, which became important for trade.

The oldest document that refers to the settlement of "Aemstelledamme" 'dam on the Amstel', as it was then known, is dated 1204 AD.

Medieval feudality

In 1204, the inhabitants of Kennemer penetrated the "aggrem Aemestel", the Amstel dike, resulting in the destruction of the house of Gijsbrecht van Aemstel.

A more important year in the history of Amsterdam was 1275. While "Amstelland" fell under the administrative jurisdiction of the Prince-bishop's "Sticht" Utrecht, Count Floris V of Holland granted the fishmen exemption from tolls. This meant the inhabitants in the vicinity of Aemstelledamme had right to travel through the county Holland without having to pay toll. After the murder of Floris in 1296, "Amstelland" again belonged to the "Sticht".

Around 1300, Gwijde van Henegouwen, bishop of Utrecht, gave Amsterdam city rights. After his death, Count Willem III inherited Amstelland, upon which Amsterdam thenceforth fell under Holland.

According to legend, on 12 March 1345, the miracle of Amsterdam occurred and Amsterdam became an important pilgrimage town. The town grew considerably thanks to the pilgrims. A Roman Catholic procession (Stille Omgang) occurs every year to celebrate the miracle.

In 1323, Willem III established a toll on the trade of beer from Hamburg. The contacts laid through the beer trade formed the basis for subsequent trade with cities of the Hanseatic league in the Baltic Sea, from where during the 14th and 15th centuries the Amsterdammers increasingly acquired grain and timber. In 1342, Count Willem IV awarded the city "Groot Privilege", which greatly strengthened the position of the city. During the 15th century, Amsterdam became the granary of the northern low countries and the most important trading city in Holland.

Two great fires swept through the city in 1421 and 1452. After the second, where three quarters of the city were destroyed, Emperor Charles decreed that new houses were to be built from stone. Few wooden building remain from this period, a notable exception being the Houten Huis (Wooden House) at the Begijnhof.

Conflict with Spain

The 16th century brought a rebellion by the Dutch against the Habsburg king Philip II of Spain. The uprising was mainly caused by the lack of political power for the local nobility and by the religious intolerance of the Spanish. Although Amsterdam began the war on the Spanish side, it changed sides in 1578 and gave its support to William I of Orange. The rebellion led to the Eighty Years' War and Dutch independence.

One of the results of the war was that Spanish religious intolerance gave way to Dutch tolerance. In Amsterdam people were free to believe what they wanted (within certain limits). In the city a large Roman Catholic minority remained (and Roman Catholicism is still one of the major religions in Amsterdam), but the majority of the people belonged to the Reformed Church and other Protestant denominations.

During these years religious wars raged throughout Europe and many people fled to the Dutch Republic and Amsterdam, where they sought refuge. Wealthy Jews from Spain and Portugal, prosperous merchants from Antwerp and the Huguenots from France all sought safety in Amsterdam.

The "Golden Age" (1585-1672)

The 17th century was Amsterdam's Golden Age. Ships from the city sailed to North America, Indonesia, Brazil and Africa and formed the basis of a worldwide trading network. Amsterdam's merchants financed expeditions to the four corners of the world and they acquired the overseas possessions which formed the seeds of the later Dutch colonies. Rembrandt painted in this century, and the city expanded greatly around its canals during this time. Amsterdam was the most important point for the transshipment of goods in Europe and it was the leading financial centre of the world (a position later taken over by London).


During the 17th and 18th century, Amsterdam was a city where immigrants formed the majority. Most immigrants were Lutheran-Protestant Germans. The enormous impact of German immigration can be seen nowadays in the surnames, which are often German. The integration of immigrants was smooth. It was not hard to find work as a craftsman, but craftsmen were forced to join guilds, to serve in the city patrol and to cooperate in the local district to compete with other districts. These were powerful institutions that resulted in quick integration, especially since all these institutions were mainly filled with immigrants or children of immigrants. The city council of Amsterdam consisted out of people with all kinds of backgrounds: Dutch, German, Flemish, French, Scottish.


However, the city's trading status meant it suffered from an outbreak of bubonic plague from 1663 to 1666, supposed to have come from Algiers to Amsterdam. (The plague also broke out in the trading centre of London in June 1665.) Though it had little initial effect, the impact grew in autumn 1663 and in 1664. Jan J. Hinlopen's wife and youngest daughter, along with Rembrandt's partner Hendrickje Stoffels, fell victim to it that autumn. According to Samuel Pepys, for a few weeks at the end of 1663 ships from Hamburg and Amsterdam were quarantined for thirty days. In 1664, 24,148 people were buried in Amsterdam and people assumed the plague was caused by the digging of new canals. More than 10% of the population died in this period - everybody that came into contact with the plague was at risk. [Noordegraaf, L. & G. Valk (1988) De Gave Gods. De pest in Holland vanaf de late Middeleeuwen, p. 230. (In Dutch.)]

Surprisingly, tobacco smoke was regarded as an effective prophylactic against the plague. [Schama, S. (1987) The embarrassment of riches. An interpretation of Dutch culture in the Golden Age, p. 197.] With the prospect of the plague, as well as war with England looming, the English ambassador commented in May 1664: "there are dead this last weeke to the number 338 at Amsterdam and if the plague thus increases within, and a warre with His Majestie without, there will be little need of that vast new towne which they are making there". [Lister, Life and Administration, iii, p. 319. In: Israel, J. (1995) The Dutch Republic, Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806. Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 625.] Rich people left the cities to avoid the disease, but in the worst week of the pandemic in 1664 in Amsterdam there were 1,041 burials compared with 7,000 in the late summer of 1665 in London, a city twice its size. [Domselaer, Tobias van (1665) Beschrijving van Amsterdam, p. 442; Schama, S. (1987) The embarrassment of riches. An interpretation of Dutch culture in the Golden Age, p. 643.] The mayors warned the population that eating salad, spinach or prunes could be unhealthy. The vroedschap shut the theatre, allowing performances to resume only in 1666 [Israel, J. (1995) The Dutch Republic, Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806. Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 693.] , though Jan J. Hinlopen's own death in 1666 is ascribed to the plague. Sailors on ships out to sea were relatively safe.

Decline and modernisation

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 Samuel Sarphati who found their inspiration in Paris.

At the end of the 19th century the Industrial Revolution reached Amsterdam. The Amsterdam-Rijn kanaal was dug to give Amsterdam a direct connection to the Rhine and the Noordzee kanaal 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.

The industrial revolution led to a huge influx of worker migrants from the Dutch countryside into the city of Amsterdam. This occurred during the rise of socialism in Amsterdam. The Dutch authorities tried to destroy socialism by treating socialists with violence. During the 1880s and 1890s, fights between the police and the socialists occurred on a weekly basis. A notorious event was the Palingoproer (eel riots) in 1886, when 26 demonstrators were killed by the army. Another was the Orange riots of 1887, which included the destruction of a socialist pub by orangists and the arrest of the defending socialists, while the orangists were not punished at all. The most popular socialist leaders of the 1890s were those who had been in jail most of the time. One socialist was so angry with the police, that he tried to kill the chief superintendent of the police. He shot a hole in the hat of the superintendent and was sentenced for many years in jail after being beaten up by policemen. After his release, he was welcomed as a hero during a parade with a laurel wreath on his head, while people were crying in the crowded streets filled with workers from Amsterdam.

The end of the 19th century is sometimes called Amsterdam's second Golden Age. New museums, the Centraal Station and the Concertgebouw were built. Also built was the Stelling van Amsterdam, a unique ring of 42 forts and land that could be inundated to defend the city against an attack. Amsterdam's population grew significantly during this period.

20th century

During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral, but Amsterdam suffered the effects of the war when food became scarce. When working class women started to plunder a ship with army supplies, the military was brought in. Workers joined their wives in the plundering and the soldiers opened fire on them. Six people were killed and almost 100 were wounded.

In 1932 a dike separating the Zuider Zee from the North Sea, the Afsluitdijk, was completed. The Zuider Zee was no more. The new lake behind the dyke was called IJsselmeer. For the first time in its history Amsterdam had no open communication with the sea.

During World War II, German troops occupied the city. More than 100,000 Jews were deported, famously including Anne Frank, and almost completely wiping out the Jewish community. Before the war, Amsterdam was the world's center for the diamond trade. Since this trade was mostly in the hands of Jewish businessmen and craftsmen, the diamond trade essentially disappeared.

The cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s made Amsterdam the "magisch centrum" (magical centre) of Europe. The use of soft drugs was tolerated and this policy made the city a popular destination for hippies. Squatting became widespread. Riots and clashes with the police were frequent. A grim atmosphere took hold of Amsterdam. Anarchist squaters wanted to change the local society by squatting empty buildings and buildings used for other purposes than living. This led to a strong confrontation with contractors, who were aligned with the Dutch Mafia. Amsterdam started the 1980s in an explosive manner. In 1980, while Queen Beatrix's coronation was being held in the New Church on Dam square, protesters outside the church fought with the police in protest against government policies. Their slogan was 'Geen woning, geen kroning' (No house, no coronation). The mayor and city council eventually had to bring in the military to get the situation under control.

During the 1930s the number of foreign immigrants, primarily from Suriname, Turkey and Morocco grew strongly. This led to an exodus of people to the 'growth cities' of Purmerend, Almere and other cities near Amsterdam. However, neighbourhoods like the Pijp and the Jordaan, which had previously been working class, became sought out places of residence for the newly wealthy yuppies and students. Amsterdam that used to be a poor city in the Netherlands turned into an economically rich city thanks to the new economical trend towards a service-economy instead of an industrial economy.

In 1992, an El Al cargo plane crashed in the Bijlmermeer in Amsterdam Zuidoost. This disaster, called the "Bijlmerramp", caused the death of at least 43 people.

At the beginning of the millennium social problems such as safety, ethnic discrimination and segregation between religious and social groups began to develop. 45% of the population of Amsterdam has non-Dutch parents. Large social groups are people from Surinam, the Dutch Antilles, Morocco and Turkey. Amsterdam is characterized by its (perceived) social tolerance and diversity. The social tolerance was endangered by the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh in November 2, 2004 by a Mohamed Bouyeri, an islamic fundamentalist. The mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, and his alderman for integration Ahmed Aboutaleb formulated a policy of "keeping things together" which involves social dialogue, tolerance and harsh measures against those who break the law.

Cultural life

In the 15th and 16th century cultural life in Amsterdam consisted mainly of festivals. During the later part of the 16th century Amsterdams Rederijkerskamer (Chamber of Rhetoric) organized contests between different Chambers in the reading of poetry and drama. In 1638 Amsterdam got its first theatre. Ballet performances were given in this theatre as early as 1642. In the 18th century French theatre became popular. Opera could be seen in Amsterdam from 1677, first only Italian and French operas, but in the 18th century German operas. In the 19th century popular culture was centered around the Nes area in Amsterdam (mainly vaudeville and musichall). The metronome, one of the most important advances in European classical music was invented here in 1812 by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel. At the end of this century the Rijksmuseum and [http://users.skynet.be/museum.melle/ Gemeentelijk Museum] were built. In 1888 the Concertgebouworkest was established. With the 20th century came cinema, radio and television. Though the studios are in Hilversum and Aalsmeer, Amsterdams influence on programming is very strong. After World War II popular culture became the dominant cultural phenomenon in Amsterdam.

History of the municipality

When the municipality was created during the French occupation, it covered the city (then consisting of only the central part inside the canals) and the immediate surroundings, less than 10% of the current municipality. When the city grew, it annexed several neighbouring municipalities:
* Sloten (covering the villages of Sloten, Sloterdijk and Osdorp, in the west), annexed in 1921
* Buiksloot, annexed in 1921, now part of Amsterdam-Noord
* Nieuwendam (covering Nieuwendam and Zunderdorp), annexed in 1921, now part of Amsterdam-Noord
* Ransdorp (covering Ransdorp, Schellingwoude, Durgerdam and Holysloot), annexed in 1921, now part of Amsterdam-Noord
* Watergraafsmeer, annexed in 1921
* a part of Nieuweramstel (covering the village of Buitenveldert)
* a part of Weesperkarspel (covering the Bijlmermeer and the village of Driemond), annexed in 1966, now Amsterdam-Zuidoost

In 1995, the national government proposed the creation of a 'city province', consisting of Amsterdam and neighbouring towns. This was rejected by the people in a referendum. The opposition was not so much against creating the city province, but against the splitting of the city in parts. Opposers feared this would destroy the city's cohesion. After the referendum the city province proposal was shelved. Nevertheless, since 1995, city parts have gradually become more autonomous, and neighbouring towns have been drawn into the city, politically and economically. In a sense, the city province has arrived in the form of 'Greater Amsterdam'.


* [http://www.amsterdam.info/basics/history/]

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