Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands, is a vibrant and bustling metropolis with a rich and fascinating history that spans over 800 years. Here are eight important events that have shaped and defined the city of Amsterdam throughout its colorful past:
The founding of Amsterdam
Amsterdam was founded as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, with the first written mention of the settlement dating back to 1275. The name was received as a dam was built to protect the village from the floods of the Amstel River. The dam was named “Amstelredamme” or “Amsterdam” in Dutch, which is how the city received its name. The dam facilitated the creation of a harbor, which helped Amsterdam grow as a trading center.
The growth of Amsterdam as a trading center
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Amsterdam became one of the most important trading cities in the world, thanks to the establishment of the Dutch East India Company and its monopoly on trade with Asia. Its geographical location close to the sea and in the center of Europe boosted the cities status as a center for trading in Europe.
The construction of the canals
In the 17th century, Amsterdam undertook an enormous building project that transformed the city, creating the canal network that is still admired today. The first major canal that was constructed was the Signal Canal, followed by Herengracht (Gentlemen’s Canal), Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal), and Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal).
The Golden Age of Dutch art
The Golden Age of Dutch art refers to a period of remarkable artistic and cultural achievements in the Netherlands, particularly in the 17th century. Amsterdam played a central role during this age due to various factors that contributed to its significance as an important artistic hub.
During the Dutch Golden Age, Amsterdam experienced unprecedented economic prosperity, political stability, and a flourishing middle class. These favorable conditions fostered a climate that supported and patronized the arts, leading to a remarkable artistic outpouring in the city.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was the most famous painter from this period. He is considered one of the greatest painters in the history of art. Besides Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) and Frans Hals (1582-1666) were the most important figures of the Dutch Golden Age of art.
The Siege of Amsterdam in 1573
Amsterdam played a critical role in the Eighty Years’ War between the Dutch Republic and Spain. In 1573, the Spanish forces, under the command of General Francisco de Valdez, laid siege to the city in an attempt to regain control over it and suppress the rebellion. The Spanish army surrounded Amsterdam and cut off its supply lines to starve the city into submission. The defenders of Amsterdam, led by a merchant named Jan van der Does, prepared for the siege by fortifying the city walls and organizing a defense force. The Siege of Amsterdam was a turning point in the struggle for Dutch independence.
The successful defense of the city boosted morale among the Dutch rebels and strengthened their resolve to fight against Spanish rule. Amsterdam remained a stronghold for the Dutch resistance, contributing to the eventual establishment of the independent Dutch Republic in the following decades. The siege also had a lasting impact on the city itself. The experience of the siege and the resilience displayed by its inhabitants helped shape Amsterdam’s identity as a city that values freedom, independence, and resistance against oppression.
The annexation of Jewish citizens during the Holocaust
Prior to the war, Amsterdam had a vibrant and thriving Jewish community. Jews had been living in the city for centuries, and by the early 20th century, Amsterdam had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. Many Jewish families were integrated into Dutch society, contributing to various aspects of culture, business, and intellectual life.
However, with the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany and the subsequent occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, the Jewish population faced increasingly severe restrictions and persecution. Anti-Jewish laws were implemented, targeting Jews with discriminatory measures and stripping them of their rights. Jews were gradually marginalized and isolated from the rest of society, Jewish-owned businesses were forced to close, and Jewish students were expelled from schools and universities.
Systematic deportation and extermination of Jews in Amsterdam began in 1942. The Nazis, assisted by Dutch collaborators, organized raids on Jewish homes and neighborhoods. Jews were rounded up and sent to transit camps, such as Westerbork, before being transported to extermination camps, primarily Auschwitz and Sobibor in Eastern Europe. The vast majority of the city’s Jewish population, estimated at around 80,000 people, were deported and murdered during the Holocaust. Only a small fraction survived.
The legalization of same-sex marriage
In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, with Amsterdam playing a central role in advocating for and embracing this landmark legislation.
The construction of Schiphol Airport
The airport was constructed in the 20th century to meet the growing demand for air travel and serve as the Netherlands’ primary international airport. The origins can be traced back to 1916 when a military airfield called Schiphol Fort was established in the Haarlemmermeer polder, southwest of Amsterdam. Initially, it served as a military base during World War I. In 1920, the Dutch government designated Schiphol as a civilian airport to meet the increasing need for air transportation. The site’s favorable location made it suitable for airport development. The first official passenger flight left the airport in 1920.
These are some of the most important events in the history of Amsterdam. If you want to learn even more about Amsterdam, it might be smart to join a guided tour in Amsterdam or visit one of the many historical museums in the city.