Amsterdam Guide, Historical Heritage

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Nothing in Amsterdam's modern persona (like the fact that it is the fourth most popular tourist destination in Europe behind London, Paris and Rome or that over a quarter of its population is Moroccan and Turkish) hints at its somewhat soggy beginnings. Read on for a condensed Amsterdam guide through history.

Amsterdam began life as a swamp. Archaeology proves the Romans passed through but the city's first real inhabitants were 12th century fishermen and farmers. With the aid of dams and dykes, the city grew steadily through the 13th and 14th centuries. When Spanish merchants realized how vital a location Amsterdam held, linking trade with the Northern seas to southern Europe, the city boomed.

Condensed historical Amsterdam Guide William of Orange

As Amsterdam grew wealthier and class discrepancies wider, the religious struggles of the Reformation began as a way for the Calvinist merchant classes to identify themselves against the Spanish Catholic aristocrats. Amsterdam broke free from Spanish rule in 1578, declaring independence, and neutrality, with seven Northern provinces to become the Netherlands.

Under the rule of William of Orange, from whom the Dutch royal family descends, Amsterdam found a Golden Age that lasted from the late 16th century to the mid 18th century. Dutch trade, fishing and merchant ships ruled the seas and the city rang with wealth. But when the British Fleet started to dominate the seas and spread its Empire around the world, Amsterdam was reduced to a peaceful trading town for the next 150 years.

The 20th century heralded more change in Amsterdam ; industry surged and steel mills sprung up across the country. The neutral nation was relatively uncompromised during WWI, but was hit hard by the depressed 1930s as unemployment claimed 25 percent of the population. Even the briefest Amsterdam guide must mention the effect WWII had on the city; for the first time in almost 400 years the city fell to another nation's control. The Germans invaded in 1940 and began systematically removing the city's Jewish population. Amsterdam lost the greatest proportion of Jews in Western Europe; the underground Resistance (their work immortalized today in Amsterdam's Verzetsmuseum) managed to save one in 16 people.

No Amsterdam guide is complete without mentioning the years the city spent recovering after WWII; it wasn't until the 1960s when Amsterdam was flooded with hippies, anarchists, students and crusaders for civil rights that the city considered itself fully back on its feet. Progressive social attitudes prevailed throughout the 1980s and Amsterdam assumed the attitude of tolerance it prides itself on today. But as issues regarding uncontrolled immigration arise, only history will tell what the future brings.