Amsterdam - History (Now and then)


Amsterdam, or Amstelledamme was originally founded as a fishing village around the thirteenth century. It got its name when a dam was built on the river Amstel, thus christening the place as Amsterdam. It was after this that the first wing of trade started flourishing with the Hansic cities, from about the fourteenth century onwards.

The 16th Century – Early years

In the 16th Century the Dutch war of Independence started against the Spanish rule. Amsterdam, though it favoured the Spanish originally, switched sides in 1578 and that led to freedom of religion. The so-called French Hugenotes fled to Amsterdam so that they could practice their religion.

The 17th Century – Golden Age

The seventeenth century is still remembered as the Golden Age. Amsterdam became the most important port of the world and an international centre for banking. Amsterdam saw its ships sailing to Indonesia, Brazil and Africa and amassed a huge empire. This century also saw Rembrandt as well as the construction of canals, and Amsterdam almost became the staple market of the world. Its ships dominated the sea-borne trade and fishing in Europe. Besides, most of the important historic buildings took form during this period. Some of them include the town hall in the Dam Square (Royal Palace), the Westerkerk, Zuiderkerk, besides the canal houses.

The 18th and 19th Century – Recession and Decline

Unfortunately, this period saw a downfall of Amsterdam’s prosperity. It lost its trade to the city of London as an aftermath of the wars that it waged against England and France. Amsterdam saw the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 19th century. Though this did not help Amsterdam to regain its earlier coveted position, the communication with the rest of Europe and the rest of world definitely improved.

The New Golden Age

Specifically from 1870 onwards, Amsterdam experienced what can be called as the New Golden Age triggered off by the Industrial Revolution. The people now stepped beyond just the Singlegratch.

Beyond the 20th Century – WWI

Almost with a vengeance, Amsterdam turned its back on the sea. In its new form, it emerged as an industrial centre with rail links, flourishing steel production and an increased population. Amsterdam managed to pull through WWI quite neatly, being the capital of a neutral Netherlands. The 1920s saw a real boom, which was finally crowned by the Olympic games hosted in 1928.


It was during WWII that the city faced the wrath of the war from close quarters. Though Netherlands tried to remain neutral, that lasted only until Germany invaded in May 1940. The Jewish population became an easy target for the occupying forces. In fact, history has it that only one out of every 16 of Amsterdam’s Jews survived the war, making it the highest proportion of Jews massacred anywhere in Western Europe.

It was only when the invaders began targeting the Dutch that a resistance movement arose due to an alliance of Calvinists and communists. The southern part of the country was liberated in 1944 and the city got its independence in May 1945.

Post WWI, II

Amsterdam slowly and quietly nursed itself until the 1960s. It was now that the citizens started raising questions on the status quo and thus Amsterdam became the radical heart of Europe. This era was marked by a series of anarchic street incidents, students and women campaigning for greater rights and hippies flocking into the place in huge numbers to experience the ‘magical Europe’.

The 1980s

After years of protests and unplanned city settlements, a consensus was reached in the 1980s. By the time Amsterdam entered the 1990s, the inner city had become a very likable medley of pubs, coffee shops, hotels and restaurants.

Contemporary Amsterdam

After years of struggling through haphazard settlements, outrageous wars and protesting citizens, the Amsterdam of today is a peaceful, liveable place with a meticulously planned and maintained infrastructure and systems.

Where Amsterdam was known as the centre of world economy around the 17th Century, it is now known for its tolerant character.

The Damark, the earlier location of the Amstel River is now one of the favourite tourist stops and is lined with numerous cafes, shops, currency exchanges and tourist information centres. The Dam Square now hosts various official events, festival concerts etc. In the centre of the Dam you will also find a monument built in the memory of the people Holland lost in World War II. Facing the Dam Square, you can see the famous Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

The well-preserved historical buildings in the city have an intense feel of timelessness. If you are really keen to explore, summers are the best time!

The ethnic constitution has also changed a lot today with the Surinamese, Moroccans, Turks and Antillans making up 25% of the population.

Other Developments

Present day Amsterdam boasts of being a major cultural centre hosting some of the most world famous exhibitions. It now has fine parks, nightlife centres, eclectic fashion hubs, offbeat shopping joints and the like to offer to its tourists.