Amsterdam Missing image
Canals of the Jordaan neighborhood


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The Netherlands
North Holland
739,295 (1 January 2005)
489'E - 5237'N
Job Cohen
Alternate meanings: See Amsterdam

Amsterdam Template:Audio is the capital of the Netherlands. 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 center. As of 2005, the population of the city proper is 742,209; the population of the greater Amsterdam area is approximately one million and a half.

Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centers in Europe, dating largely from the 17th century. The old city was built up around a series of concentric, semi-circular canals, 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.

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. It also enjoys a certain notoriety for its red-light district, de Wallen, and its numerous "coffee shops" selling cannabis.

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


Main article: History of Amsterdam

Amsterdam was founded as a fishing village in the 13th century. 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.

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Historical centre

The 16th century brought a rebellion by the Dutch against Philip II of Spain. The rebellion led to the Eighty Years' War and Dutch independence. Subequently, the Dutch Republic became known for its religious tolerance, and wealthy Jews from Spain and Portugal, prosperous merchants from Antwerp and the Huguenots from France, among others, sought safety in Amsterdam.

The 17th century is considered Amsterdam's "Golden Age". In the early 17th century Amsterdam was the richest trading city in Europe. Ships 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 mightily around its canals during this time. Amsterdam was the most important point for the trans-shipment of goods in Europe and it was for a time the leading financial center of the world. Amsterdam's stock exchange was the first to trade continuously. Dutch wages were the highest in the world.

The population grew from slightly more than 10,000 around 1500 to 30,000 around 1570, 60,000 around 1600, 105,000 in 1622 and almost 200,000 around 1700. Thereafter, the population did not change much for another century and a half.

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-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. 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.

During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral, but Amsterdam suffered the effects of the war when food became scarce.

During World War II, German troops occupied the city. More than 100,000 Jews were deported, of whom perhaps the most famous was a young girl, Anne Frank; this almost completely wiped out the Jewish community.

Coat of arms

The coat of arms of Amsterdam is composed of three St Andrew's crosses, aligned vertically. 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)

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Satellite image of Amsterdam

As all Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is governed by a mayor, his wethouders, 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 (Free University). 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 labor 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.

Public transportation

Public transport in Amsterdam consists of:

  • national and international train connections
  • 3 metro lines
  • a light rail line
  • 18 tram lines
  • many bus lines (local, regional and national)
  • several ferries across the IJ (free of charge)

A new underground line, the North/South Line (Noord/Zuidlijn), and a new tramline are under construction. (See also Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf, List of Amsterdam metro stations.)

Many people in Amsterdam use a bicycle to get around. Most 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, 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

Famous Amsterdammers

External links


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