Port of Rotterdam
Review and History

The Port of Rotterdam is Europe's largest seaport, and it is the second biggest city in The Netherlands. Located about 34 nautical miles downstream from the Port of Moerdijk on the New Meuse and 70 kilometers southwest of the Port of Amsterdam, the Port of Rotterdam is about 100 nautical miles directly east of the Port of Felixstowe in England. In 2007, the Port of Rotterdam was home to over 584 thousand people, and the urban area contained almost 896 thousand people.

Erasmusbrug Bridge and the River Meuse

Erasmusbrug Bridge and the River Meuse

Photo by Massimo Catarinella

The Port of Rotterdam is the base of the city's economy. Located in the heart of Europe's industrialized, highly-populated triangle of the German Ruhr district, Paris, and London, the Port of Rotterdam is strategically positioned on the world's busiest sea. It is an important distribution point for products going all over inland Europe. The Port of Rotterdam also has a busy petrochemical industry and several oil refineries. Crude oil arrives by sea to be processed and delivered to areas in The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium.

Port History

As early as 900 AD, a small settlement at the lower end of the Rotte stream. Floods brought development to an end in the middle 12th Century, and protective dams and dikes began to be built along the banks of the New Meuse. In the 1260s, a dam was built on the Rotte at today's High Street in the Port of Rotterdam.

The first written mention of the Port of Rotterdam was in 1283 when a tract of reclaimed land was created at the mouth of the Rotte River as a fishing village. It was chartered in 1328, and in 1340, William IV of Holland gave the town permission to build a canal to the Schie. When the canal was finished in 1360, the Port of Rotterdam was soon a major seaport for the region. About two thousand people lived there at the time.

A View of the Harbour, Rotterdam 1856

A View of the Harbour, Rotterdam 1856

by Johann Barthold Jongkind
Photo by Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

The new canal gave the Port of Rotterdam access to larger cities in the north, and it was quickly an important center for the transshipment of goods between England and Germany. When the sea route to the Indies was discovered in the 17th Century, Dutch commerce and shipping boomed. The Port of Rotterdam was expanded along the Meuse, and before 1700, the Port of Rotterdam was the second most important port in the country after only Amsterdam. It became one of the Dutch East India Company's six centers in The Netherlands.

During the French occupation of the Napoleonic Wars from 1795 until 1815, the Port of Rotterdam had little trade. After Napoleon fell, trade returned to the Port of Rotterdam. In 1872 as the Meuse-Rhine channels were silting over, the Port of Rotterdam completed the Nieuwe Waterweb ("New Waterway"), opening the city and port to sea-going steamships.

In 1877, the railroad came, crossing the Meuse River and opening the Port of Rotterdam to the southern Netherlands. Bridges were built that opened the river's south banks, and new larger harbor facilities appeared in the 1890s. Between 1906 and 1930, the Port of Rotterdam Waal Harbor grew to be the world's biggest dredged harbor. New modern buildings appeared downtown. The rapid development confirmed the Port of Rotterdam's success.

In 1940, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands by bombing the Port of Rotterdam and threatening to do the same to other cities. Over a third of the port facilities were destroyed. The Luftwaffe bombing near destroyed the city's heart, killing about 800 people and making about 80 thousand homeless.

Port of Rotterdam<br>between 1890 and 1905

Port of Rotterdam
between 1890 and 1905

Photo by Photoglob AG

Over the first half of the 20th Century, the Port of Rotterdam shifted to the west toward the North Sea until it stretched about 40 kilometers along the river from the historic harbor area in the city center to the Europort on the shores of the North Sea.

In the decades following World War II, the Port of Rotterdam was rebuilt. Modern architectural styles supplanted the old traditional buildings that had been destroyed, and the Port of Rotterdam gained a completely new and contemporary skyline. Out of tragedy, the Port of Rotterdam was at the forefront of modern city planning. The Lijnbaan Shopping Centre became a prototype for pedestrian-only shopping centers in Europe and America.

Rotterdam 1960

Rotterdam 1960

View from the Euromast looking direction WSW
Photo by Wouter Hagens

The Port of Rotterdam is the base and major component of the city's economy. The established port in the city center is complemented by its modern outport, Europort, giving the Port of Rotterdam capacity for more cargo than any other port in the world. While much of its cargo is crude oil and petroleum products, the Port of Rotterdam is a major grain and general cargo harbor for Europe. With thousands of river barges traveling the Rhine to use the Port of Rotterdam's facilities, it is an important transshipment center for inland Europe.

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