The Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1815. In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I but suffered a brutal invasion and occupation by Germany in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. The country was a founding member of NATO and the EC, and participated in the introduction of the euro in 1999. The political capital of the Netherlands is the City of The Hague, but Amsterdam (the biggest cit) is the administrative capital.
The head of state is Queen Beatrix, from the House of Orange-Nassau. The official name of the country is “The Netherlands”, Holland being actually only the name of the area around Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
The Netherlands is one of the world’s smaller countries, with 15.8 million inhabitants and an area of 41,864 square kilometres. Even so, it is the sixth largest exporter and investor in the world. And flat as it is, the Netherlands is full of surprises. A country where different cultures have lived together for centuries, the Netherlands is renowned for its accomplishments in the arts and sciences, but no less for its dairy farming and flower industry.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands consists of the Netherlands proper and the Caribbean islands of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. The name Holland is often used instead of the Netherlands, although, strictly speaking, it refers to the two western coastal provinces, North and South Holland, which have played an important role in the country’s history. The fact that the Netherlands lies on the coast and is situated on the estuaries of three major Western European rivers – the Rhine, the Maas and the Scheldt – has always been a major factor in the development of the economy. And with Rotterdam as the largest port in the world, it is truly the gateway to Europe. What is more, the Netherlands has one of the biggest airports in Europe and the most up-to-date communications technology.
The major cities are all relatively close together, yet each has a character of its own. And none, incidentally, has a population of more than one million. Amsterdam with its historic city centre and museums, its unique ring of canals and impressive buildings, attracts the most tourists. But the cities of The Hague, Delft, Haarlem, Utrecht, Groningen and Maastricht certainly have their share of historic buildings, museums, traditions and attractions. Rotterdam is renowned for its striking modern architecture, like the Erasmus Bridge, known locally as the ‘Swan’.
The Netherlands has a long coastline with many interesting villages and towns, and areas of natural beauty. Lovers of water sports such as surfing, sailing and swimming will find ideal conditions on one of the country’s many beaches or, further inland, on the lakes, rivers and canals. Trips through beautiful nature reserves may be made under sail, by motor boat or canoe. One of the most popular ways to explore the Netherlands is by bicycle. The country is criss-crossed by thousands of kilometres of cycle path. Visitors will find a wide range of accommodation, excellent opportunities for recreation and tourism, and outstanding facilities for international congresses.
The many bridges, dikes, water mills and pumping stations are an impressive sight. The extensive Delta works are a powerful reminder of the battle the Dutch are still waging against the sea. The final part of the project, the storm surge barrier in the New Waterway near the Europort, was completed in 1997. The barrier has two enormous hinged gates which can be lowered in severe weather conditions to close off the 360-metre-wide waterway and protect one million people in Rotterdam and the surrounding area from flooding, without doing any harm to the environment.
Nearly half of the country is below sea level. The lower Netherlands consists largely of flat polders surrounded by dikes, where the water table is regulated artificially. From the 16th century on, windmills were used not only to keep the land dry but also to drain entire inland lakes. They have since been replaced by pumping stations. Most of all, the Netherlands is known for its flowers. The bulb fields in the provinces of North and South Holland are at their most beautiful in April and May, when the daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are in bloom. Thousands of visitors flock to see them. The Netherlands produces 60 per cent of the world’s commercially-grown flowers
What do South Africa, the USA, Holland and the Indian Ocean all have in common? – They all have an Amsterdam ! However, only one of them has over 800 000 inhabitants from 140 countries, who do their shopping in 10 334 stores, 165 antique shops and 26 markets. They rush about at a leisurely pace on their 550 000 bicycles across 1 281 bridges, zig-zagging around 160 canals, riding through one shower of rain after another and chasing the minority of car drivers who still venture onto this territory claimed by the trusty bike.
Yes, of course, this is the Amsterdam, coronation city and capital of the Netherlands ! Of course the seat of government is in The Hague, but the City of Canals is the true “First Lady”. She wears the cosmopolitan scent of a world city, she is open-minded, lively and breathtaking. As early as the Golden Age of the 17th century the city had acquired great wealth by trading with the exotic lands of Asia. Nowadays the times of the great sea adventures are long gone, you can only admire museum reconstructions of the proud East Indies cutters in the port. Instead of the merchants and sailors haggling over china and spices, today more than four million visitors pour into the city each year. Amsterdam is a jewel, and the hallmark “Amsterdam cut” is recognized by more than just dealers in precious stones as a sign of the highest quality.
Where to go:
- Amsterdam City
- The Hague