The Netherlands is a country which, although often quiet on the world stage, is home to one of the most influential cities in world history. A city that even today the world looks to for trends, especially those to do with tolerance.
Before looking into what to do in Amsterdam during your stay, it is well worth knowing exactly how this city was formed over the centuries and what has made it the city it is today.
The experiences of the city and those that dwell within it can be split into five fairly distinct ages. The early history of Amsterdam; its golden age; the age of gold and silver; the recession and decline of Amsterdam and the recovery and expansion of the city.
Amsterdam first came to relative prominence in the thirteenth century as a fishing village. However, recent findings of stone age artefacts actually prove that humans settled in the area probably thousands of years before that.
The fishing village of Amsterdam spread from a dam that had been built in the Amstel River and the name of the town was first mentioned in 1275 (Amstelledamme).
The village was a very successful one and it grew rapidly, especially throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth century. This was a rapid growth that was to set the foundations for its upcoming golden age.
Throughout the medieval ages in Amsterdam, houses and other buildings were generally made of wood, so very few examples of their existence remain today. The Old and New Churches (Oude Kerk and Niewe Kerk) are rare examples of buildings from these times.
A more striking example is Het Houten Huis, the oldest house in Amsterdam which was built around 1420.
The golden age of Amsterdam describes the city when it was at the height of its commercial success. It ran from 1585 to 1672 and Amsterdam was one of the most prominent financial centres in the world.
The city expanded rapidly and some of the most famous buildings in the city date from this time, including the Westerkerk and the Royal Palace.
The golden age effectively ended in 1672 as the year was such a disaster for the Dutch. The French and the English had attacked at the same time and the Dutch were no longer the only dominant world force.
The age of gold and silver, which ran until 1795 was by no means a time of austerity for Amsterdam, quite the opposite. It remained a highly prosperous place to be.
Despite not being the only players in the market, Amsterdam managed to remain the financial hub of Europe. Plenty of buildings were constructed during this time and modern Amsterdam began to take shape. Most of the houses in the city can trace their routes back to this time in the eighteenth century.
The decline of the city began in 1795 when the old Republic ceased to exist. The French began to occupy the country and Amsterdam suffered economic depression until 1813. The houses that had been built in the previous age began to lie vacant, meaning that infrastructure started to physically collapse.
The city started to recover in 1813 and from 1870 actually managed to start growing again thanks to the Industrial Revolution. The population itself expanded rapidly and large housing developments sprang up creating largely poorer, working class neighbourhoods. This growth continued until 1920 when the city again went back into recession.
Today Amsterdam is known as the capital of The Netherlands and the most populous city in the country, though not the seat of government. Its museums, canals, red light district and coffee shops are its most famous tourist spots.
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