Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
credit Holland Tourist Board
Amsterdam developed around a dam in the Amstel River at the end of the 12th century. The name Amstelledamme was recorded in 1275. By the 15th century, Amsterdam had laid the foundation for Holland's Golden Age. Only very few medieval buildings survive today. (Old and New Churches and the Houten Huis (Wooden House) at the Begijnhof). Throughout the Middle Ages houses were generally built of wood, which of course was vulnerable to fires and termites. Consequently, most are gone.
Amsterdam was the capital of the Holland and prosperous, but when the southern city of Antwerp fell to the Spanish in 1585, it benefited from a stream of enterprising merchants and wealthy refugees and the city became the most important trading centre in the world.
West Indies House in Amsterdam was the former headquarters of the Dutch West India Company (WIC), which was probably the largest single slave trader in history. The company was chartered in 1621, and monopolized African slave trade until 1730. The WIC building was occupied from 1621-1647, a period which saw 30,000 slaves arriving in Dutch Brazil and 25 to Manhattan in 1625, arranged through the WIC. The WIC arranged routes required for bulk warehousing and transportation for slaves, sugar, cotton and tobacco.
Most traded export commodities passed through Amsterdam's canals and rested in its warehouses before being traded on. Merchants came from all over Europe to the Commodity Exchange to set and speculate on future prices of sugar, cotton and tobacco from the Caribbean, often traded for gold and silver. These prices helped shape the demand for slave labor, gold and silver worldwide.
Thus Dutch innovations in auctions, finance, navigation, and manufacturing allowed for slaves and slave produce to be transported at greater capacity and lower cost. The first recorded trader sold 20 Africans to the colony of Virginia in 1619, the beginning of American Slavery. Dutch slave trade also took off in the sugar plantations of Northern Brazil in 1630 during wars with Portugal. A spoil of their war with Portugal, Dutch gained control of many slave depots on the West African coast, centered in Ghana, which by 1650 had dispatched 30,000 slaves to Brazil alone.
After the return of the Brazilian colonies to Portugal in 1654, the Dutch traders were able to draw upon their network of forts to supply other European powers, dominating the supply to Spain until the 1690s. However the near constant warfare the Netherlands were waged in with other European nations, such as Spain, France and Britain, by Imperial Spain, did eventually sap its strength, and Dutch involvement in the trade effectively ceased in 1795.
In 1795 the government was overthrown. Soon the French, via Napoleon, occupied Holland. During 1795-1813, Amsterdam suffered an economic recession, many houses were vacant and few buildings from that period survive today. With the end of the Napoleonic wars, 1813-onwards was kinder to Amsterdam and Holland. Even though the Dutch also abolished slavery in 1863, Dutch agents had brought 540,000 Africans to the Americas, thereby accumulating vast wealth that funded their high education system as a means to adapt to the industrial revolution. That did fantastically well until until the 1920s recession hit Europe.
Surrounded by World War II, Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 and took control of the country after five days of fighting. The Germans installed a Nazi civilian government in Amsterdam that cooperated with the persecution of Jews. More than 100,000 Dutch Jews were deported to concentration camps; relatively few survived the war.
At the end of World War II, communication with the rest of the country broke down, and food and fuel became scarce. Many citizens traveled to the countryside to forage. Dogs, cats, raw sugar beets, and Tulip bulbs—cooked to a pulp—were consumed to stay alive. Most of the trees in Amsterdam were cut down for fuel, and all wood was taken from vacant dwellings. After the war approximately 120,000 Dutch were prosecuted for their collaboration with the Nazis.
Many new Amsterdam suburbs were built following World War II., leading the development of public parks and modern buildings seen today. As society was changing, politicians and other influential figures made plans to redesign roads for automobiles and implemented metro rail system. destroyed buildings were replaced by new ones corresponding to the medieval street plan of the neighbourhood. The new city hall was built on the almost completely demolished Waterlooplein. Meanwhile, large private organisations, such as Stadsherstel Amsterdam, were founded to restore the entire city centre. with many ongoing efforts visible today. The history of this remarkable city is well documented in the Rijksmuseum.