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History – Last Minute City Breaks

The Humble Beginning

Amsterdam’s history probably begins sometime during the Roman era, when a small settlement was founded near the Amstel River. Still traceable evidence can only be found from around 1300 AD.

Fishing and trading were the town’s main activities back then, connecting northern Europe and Flanders. The counts of Holland ruled the area and we find the first mention of “Amsterdam” in a toll privilege order dated in 1275. The city grew fast and in 1489 it was given the right to adorn its armor bearings with the imperial crown of the Burgundian – Austrian monarchy. Gradually, Amsterdam became Holland’s most important trading city and port and the biggest granary of the region, gaining wealth and influence.

The Renaissance

During the 16th century, Spain took control of the Netherlands and the inhabitants of Amsterdam wavered to join an uprising led by William the Silent against Spanish rule. A little later a revolt did broke out resulting in the deportation of the majority of Catholic priests the establishment of the Dutch Reformed church in the city.

In 1585 Spanish forces regained control of the city of Antwerp, which was back then the main port of the Netherlands. The Dutch answered by blockading the river by which Antwerp connected to the sea, while scores of Protestants sought refuge into Amsterdam, enriching the city’s cultural and trade life. Banking and shipbuilding met unprecedented thrive. At the same time, numerous Jews driven out of Portugal also immigrated in to the city. During the next century, Amsterdam turned into a commercial metropolis, dominating with its ships the seas from the Baltic and the Mediterranean to the East Indies. Several locals founded colonies in South America and Africa, further expanding the city’s commercial power.

It was around that age that the medieval Amsterdam gave its place to the renowned city of the Renaissance. In 1612 the Three Canals Extension Plan was implemented. By the end of the 80 Years’ War in 1648, Amsterdam was acclaimed as the commercial and cultural centre of the whole world, being able even to lend large sums to foreign monarchs.

As Amsterdam grew financially stronger, local magistrates tried to gain as much independence as possible from the official state. The city gradually declined throughout the 18th century as its rivals, London and Hamburg, took the lead as Europe’s trading centres. The Prussians sacked the city in 1787 but 8 years later French troops liberated it. Still, Napoleonic wars took a heavy toll in the city’s trade. In 1806 Napoleon proclaimed the Netherlands an independent kingdom with Amsterdam as its capital, but 4 years later its territory was added to the realm of the French Empire. In 1813 the city was liberated and served again as the Kingdom’s capital.

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The 20th Century

The city started to thrive again. Population reached half a million by 1900. World War I cause a lot of problems but it was the Great Depression of the 30’s and World War II that literally damaged Amsterdam’s economy. The Germans took over The Netherlands in 1940, and Amsterdam was bombed repeatedly by allied forces. The worst of all, though, was the horrific deportation of more than 70,000 Jewish from the city.

The war was followed by hard efforts to bring back the good old days, and prosperity eventually returned around middle 50’s. The 60’s marked the radical transformation of the city into the world’s capital of libertarian radicalism. This paved the way for the recreational use of drugs and spread prostitution, as well as for several political and cultural movements.