Port of Amsterdam
Review and History

The Port of Amsterdam lies at the head of the Ijsselmeer, a shallow freshwater lake in the northern Netherlands's North Holland province. The Port of Amsterdam is about 135 nautical miles east-northeast of the Port of Felixstowe in England and about 170 kilometers north-northeast of the Port of Brussels in Belgium. While the seat of government for The Netherlands is at The Hague, the Port of Amsterdam is the country's official capital. The Port of Amsterdam is the major center for culture and finance in The Netherlands. In 2006, over 739 thousand people lived in the city of Amsterdam, and over one million called the metropolitan area home.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

A panorama of the river Amstel in the city's centre of Amsterdam
Photo by Massimo Catarinella

The Port of Amsterdam is largely an urban service center with only 10% of its workforce in manufacturing jobs. It is and has been an international center for trade and transportation for seven centuries, and these sectors employ some 20% of the workforce. Another important part of the local economy is tourism, also employing about 10% of the workforce. Business services is the fastest growing sector of the Port of Amsterdam's economy, with firms involved in medical and information technology, consulting, and telecommunications. Many workers are also employed in social, cultural, and health services. The Port of Amsterdam is very popular with international businesses, attracting about 20% of all investments made in Europe by Japan and the United States. About 60 foreign banks operated offices there.

The Port of Amsterdam and its air transportation facilities help the city continue to be a regional and international trade center. Tourism is a major economic sector, with over four million visitors coming to the Port of Amsterdam each year for business as well as pleasure.

Port History

Some believe that land was being reclaimed at the site of the future Port of Amsterdam as early as the 10th Century, suggesting the presence of a settlement. Around 1270, the area's inhabitants built dikes on both sides of the River Amster to protect themselves from floods.

The first written record of the Port of Amsterdam was a certificate from 1275. At that time, "Amestelledamme" was a fishing village with a bridge and dam across the river. The certificate signed by Count Floris V, one of the counts of Holland, exempted the people from paying a bridge toll. Even at this early date, ships were carrying goods between the Port of Amsterdam and other Baltic ports.

The city gained the name Aemsterdam by 1327, although it had received its first city charter in 1306. The Port of Amsterdam flourished from that beginning. After 1345, it was a pilgrimage destination until Protestantism was adopted in the region, although an annual procession still recalls the ancient pilgrimages.

By the end of the 15th Century, the Port of Amsterdam was Europe's most influential commercial port and town and the granary of northern Netherlands. It was a great rich center of wealth and power for Europe.

In the 16th Century, Philip II of Spain ruled one of the biggest empires in the world, the Holy Roman Empire that had territory in every continent known to Europe at the time. However, new taxes and religious persecution of Protestants in the Spanish Inquisition led the Dutch to rebel against Philip. That revolt was the starting point for the Eighty Years' War and ultimate Dutch independence.

The Port of Amsterdam, however, was slow to join the rebellion. In 1578, William I, prince of Orange, led a bloodless revolution in the Port of Amsterdam. The magistrates and Roman Catholic priests were driven from the city. The Dutch Reformed Church replaced the Roman Catholic Church, and the Port of Amsterdam joined the rebellion against the Spanish crown.

At this time, the Port of Amsterdam was a small town with about 30 thousand residents. In 1585, the Spanish army took Antwerp. Dutch forces blocked Antwerp's link to the sea in response. When Antwerp fell, Protestant refugees flooded northern Netherlands, particularly the Port of Amsterdam. The city's population tripled from 1565 to the early 17th Century.

The new Dutch republic was well-known for its religious tolerance, and Jews from Spain, Portugal, and France joined merchants and other refugees to seek safety in Port of Amsterdam. The combination of the city's intellectual open-mindedness and the arrival of Flemish printers soon made the Port of Amsterdam a center for Europe's free press.

The Port of Amsterdam's Golden Age came in the 17th Century when it was the world's richest city. An international trade network was formed when ships traveled from the Port of Amsterdam to Africa, North America, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and other Baltic region countries. The Port of Amsterdam was the most important shipping center in the world.

The merchants of the Port of Amsterdam owned the majority of the Dutch East and West India companies that acquired territories all over the world. These territories then became Dutch colonies. Trading its own shares, the Dutch East India Company's Amsterdam office became the first stock exchange in the world in 1602.

In the 17th Century, more than one-tenth of the population the Port of Amsterdam was killed by the Black Death. However, so many people were immigrating to the city that it grew from 50 thousand to 200 thousand in that Century.

In the 18th and early 19th Centuries, the fortunes of the Port of Amsterdam declined. The Dutch Republic's wars with England and France severely inhibited trade. When Holland was brought into the French Empire during the Napoleonic Wars, the Port of Amsterdam became a relatively insignificant city. When the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was established in 1815, the Port of Amsterdam began to grow again.

In the late 19th Century, the Port of Amsterdam entered what some call its second Golden Age. The Industrial Revolution arrived, and new civic buildings (like museums and train stations) and services appeared. The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal provided a direct connection to the River Rhine, and the North Sea Canal made travel to the North Sea easier and faster. The canals greatly increased trade with other European countries as well as throughout the world.

Before World War I began, the Port of Amsterdam was growing with new suburbs. While the country was neutral during the war, the Port of Amsterdam had shortages of food and heating oil, causing riots in which people looted stores and warehouses.

In 1940, Nazi Germany invaded and took control of The Netherlands. They seated a civilian Nazi government over the Port of Amsterdam that cooperated in persecuting Jews. Citizens of the Port of Amsterdam risked their own freedom or lives by sheltering Jews, but not all were saved. Over 100 thousand Dutch Jews were sent to concentration camps, and only five thousand survived World War II. One Jewish resident of the Port of Amsterdam, Anne Frank, died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Life was difficult for the residents of the Port of Amsterdam after the war ended. Food and fuel were hard to find, and the people ate tulip bulbs, raw sugar beets, even dogs and cats to survive. Most of the area's trees were felled to for fuel. After the War, about 120 thousand Dutch citizens were prosecuted for collaborating with the Nazis.

The latter half of the 20th Century brought new developments to the Port of Amsterdam. Many suburbs were built with public parks and open spaces. New buildings gave the residents better housing. The war had brought much of the city into a state of disrepair, and automobiles were more common. A large-scale redesign was needed.

By the 1970, a mixed rapid transit and light rail system (Metro) was operating, and a new highway connecting the metro and the suburbs to the city center was envisioned. Huge demolition projects were planned to bring down what had been Jewish neighborhoods. Streets were to be widened. The city seemed to be undergoing a whole-scale demolition.

The Nieuwmarktrellen (Nieuwmarkt riots) broke out in 1975 when residents angered by the demolition revolted. Demolition was stopped, and the highway building project was cancelled. The metro was completed, but just a few streets were widened, and buildings that had been destroyed were replaced according to the city's historical street plans. Several private groups were formed to restore the city. Restoration efforts continue today. The Port of Amsterdam's city center has been returned to its former glory and is, for the most part, a protected area.

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