The origins of Amsterdam began in the 12th century. Fisherman living along the banks of the River Amstel built a bridge across the waterway and wooden locks under the bridge served as a dam. This dam protected the village from the rising waters. The mouth of the Amstel River formed a natural harbor which was important for trade.
Recent archeological digs discovered that Amsterdam is older than the 12th century. The discovery of pole-axes, pottery and a stone hammer dated from the Neolithic Era or New Stone Age means Amsterdam would have been a great place to visit some 4600 years ago.
In 1275 Amsterdam’s sailors and fishermen were exempted from paying tolls. Exemptions from paying tolls meant traders could buy and sell merchandise from anywhere. Goods from Amsterdam could be bought and sold for lower prices than anywhere else in the Hinderland.
Amsterdam became an important pilgrimage city in 1421 and 1452. Two great fires swept through the city and over 70% of the city was destroyed. Emperor Charles commanded all new houses were only to be built from stone. Few wooden buildings remain from the 1400s.
In the 16th century, the Dutch rebelled against the Hapsburg King Philip II of Spain. The uprising was caused by the lack of political power for the locals plus the religious intolerance of the Spanish rulers. Amsterdam started the war with the Spanish but threw its support to William I of Orange. Thus began the Eighty Years’ War and finally Dutch independence. As the war raged on, wealthy Jews from Spain and Portugal plus merchants from Antwerp and the Huguenots from France sought asylum in Amsterdam.
The 17th Century was the Golden Age. Ships from Amsterdam sailed to North America, Indonesia, Brazil and Africa. Trade formed the basis of a trading network. Merchants financed expeditions to the four corners of the world and acquired riches. Rembrandt painted during the 17th Century and the canals that surround Amsterdam were finished.
The 20th Century brought occupation by the Germans and the expulsion of the Jews. Before the War, Amsterdam was the diamond capital of the world. After the Jews left, the diamond trade fell.
During Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s Amsterdam became the magical center of the Netherlands. Drug use was tolerated, and Amsterdam became a popular destination for “hippies”. Riots and clashes were frequent, and an uninviting atmosphere took hold.
Foreign immigrants from Turkey, Suriname, and Morocco entered Amsterdam at a steady pace. The inner city became a place for rich yuppies and students. Amsterdam, once rich then poor, became rich again. Social problems of discrimination and segregation between religious and social groups started to develop. Those who broke the law were treated harshly.
Amsterdam is a friendly yet relaxed city. The intimacy of the cobbled and clean streets plus the canals and town squares direct an atmosphere that is unique. Amsterdam has the highest museum population in the world. It is home to the Van Gogh Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Anne Frank House, and the historic canal district. Tolerance lives in Amsterdam, so hop on a bike and come visit.