Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, lies on the banks of two bodies of water, the IJ bay and the Amstel river. Founded in the late 12th century as a small fishing village on the banks of the Amstel, it is now the largest city in the country and is a financial and cultural centre. As of 1 August 2006, the population of the city proper is 741,329; the population of the official Greater Amsterdam area is approximately 1.5 million. Amsterdam is also one of the core urban centres of the greater metropolitan area called "Randstad" (Ring City) which encompasses other Dutch cities such as Utrecht, The Hague and Rotterdam and has a population of over 7.5 million.
Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres in Europe, dating largely from the 17th century. At that time, a series of concentric, semi-circular canals ("grachten") were dug around the old city centre. Along the canals, houses and warehouses were built. The canals still define Amsterdam's layout and appearance today, with many fine houses and mansions situated along the banks. Some of the narrow brick houses are gradually sinking because they are built on wooden piles to cope with the marshy subsoil.
Although Amsterdam is officially designated as the capital of the Netherlands, it has never been (save a brief period between 1808 and 1810) the seat of the court, government, or parliament of the Netherlands, which are all located at The Hague. Amsterdam is also not the capital of the province in which it is located, North Holland, whose capital is located at Haarlem.
Amsterdam is famous for its free-spirited liberalism, diversity and tolerance.
Amsterdam began as a fishing village in the late 12th century. According to legend, Amsterdam was founded by two Frisian fishermen, who landed on the shores of the Amstel in a small boat with their dog. The damming of the river Amstel gave it its name (in Dutch: Amstelredam "Dam in the Amstel", turned into Amsterdam in the course of time). The traditional founding of the city of Amsterdam is 27 October 1275, when the inhabitants living around the Amstel dam were granted freedom from paying the tolls associated with the locks and bridges of Holland. It was given city rights in 1300 or 1301. From the 14th century on, Amsterdam flourished, largely on the basis of trade with the cities of the Hanseatic League.
In the 16th century the Dutch rebelled against Philip II of Spain and his successors. The revolt escalated into the Eighty Years' War which ultimately led to Dutch independence. After the break with Spain, the Dutch Republic became known for its relative religious tolerance. Jews from Spain and Portugal, prosperous merchants from Antwerp (economic and religious refugees from the part of the Low Countries still controlled by Spain), and Huguenots from France (persecuted for their religion) sought safety in Amsterdam.
The 17th century is considered Amsterdam's "Golden Age". In the early 17th century Amsterdam became one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to the Baltic Sea, North America, Africa and present-day Indonesia and Brazil, and formed the basis of a worldwide trading network. Amsterdam's merchants had the biggest share in the VOC and WIC. These companies acquired the overseas possessions which formed the seeds of the later Dutch colonies. Amsterdam was the most important point for the trans-shipment of goods in Europe, and it was the leading financial centre of the world. Amsterdam's stock exchange was the first to trade continuously.
The population grew from slightly over 10,000 around 1500, to 30,000 around 1570, 60,000 around 1600, 105,000 in 1622 and almost 200,000 around 1700 (a twenty fold increase in 200 years). Thereafter, the population did not change much for another century and a half. During the century before World War II it almost quadrupled to 800,000, but then remained fairly constant again to this day.
The 18th and early 19th centuries saw a decline in Amsterdam's prosperity. The wars of the Dutch Republic with England (see Anglo-Dutch Wars) and France took their toll on Amsterdam. During the Napoleonic Wars, Amsterdam's fortunes reached their lowest point. However, with the establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, things slowly began to improve. In Amsterdam new developments were started by people like city planner Samuel Sarphati, who found their inspiration in Paris.
The end of the 19th century is sometimes called Amsterdam's second Golden Age. New museums, a train station, and the Concertgebouw were built. At this time the Industrial Revolution reached Amsterdam. The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal was dug to give Amsterdam a direct connection to the Rhine, and the North Sea Canal to give the port a shorter connection to the North Sea. Both projects improved communication with the rest of Europe and the world dramatically. Joseph Conrad gives a brief description of Amsterdam, seen from the sea at this period, in The Mirror of the Sea (1906).
Shortly before the First World War the city began expanding and new suburbs were built. During the war, the Netherlands remained neutral. Amsterdam suffered a food shortage, and heating fuel became scarce. The shortages sparked riots in which several people were killed.
Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, taking control of the country after five days of fighting. The Germans installed a Nazi civilian government in Amsterdam that cooperated in the persecution of Jews. However, a minority of people in Amsterdam helped the Jews in hiding and suffered persecution themselves in doing so. More than 103,000 to 105,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands to concentration camps, of whom perhaps the most famous was a young German girl, Anne Frank. Only 5,000 Dutch Jews survived the war. In the last months of the war, communication with the rest of the country broke down, and food and fuel became scarce. Many inhabitants of the city had to travel to the countryside to collect food. Dogs, cats and raw sugar beets were consumed to stay alive. Most of the trees in Amsterdam were cut down for fuel, and all the wood was taken from the apartments of the Jewish people who were deported.
The coat of arms of Amsterdam is composed of three St Andrew's crosses, aligned vertically. Historians believe they represent the three dangers which have traditionally plagued the city: flood, fire, and pestilence. The city's official motto, Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig ("Valiant, Resolute, Merciful") which is displayed on the coat of arms, was bestowed on it by Queen Wilhelmina in 1947 in recognition of the city's bravery during World War II. The lions were added in the 16th century.
The Imperial Crown of Austria was awarded to the city in 1489 by Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, out of gratitude for services and loans. The crown was a sign of imperial protection and acted as a seal of approval for Amsterdam merchants abroad. The Westertoren (tower of the Westerkerk) also features the imperial crown.
As all Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is governed by a mayor, his aldermen, and the municipal council. However, unlike most other Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is subdivided into fifteen stadsdelen (boroughs), a system that was implemented in the 1980s to improve local governance. The stadsdelen are responsible for many activities that previously had been run by the central city. Fourteen of these have their own council, chosen by a popular election. The fifteenth, Westpoort, covers the harbour of Amsterdam, has very few inhabitants, and is governed by the central municipal council. Local decisions are made at borough level, and only affairs pertaining to the whole city, such as major infrastructure projects, are handled by the central city council.
Amsterdam enjoys a moderate temperate climate, with the weather patterns being strongly influenced by Amsterdam's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the prevailing westerly winds. Winters are mild and average above freezing, although frosts are not uncommon during periods of easterly or northeasterly winds that blow from the interior of the continent. Summers are warm but seldom hot. Although days with measurable precipitation are common, Amsterdam averages less than 760 mm of precipitation annually. Most of the rain falls as protracted drizzle or light rain. Cloudy and damp days are common, particularly in the cooler months.
Amsterdam is the financial/business capital of the Netherlands and one of the most important cities in Europe in which to do business. Many large Dutch corporations and banks have their headquarters in Amsterdam, including ABN Amro, Heineken, ING Group, Ahold, Delta Lloyd Group and Philips. KPMG International's global headquarter is located in Amsterdam, as is the European headquarter of Cisco Systems.
Though many subsidiaries are located along the old canals, more and more companies decide to move to a newly built office tower outside the city centre. The South Axis (Dutch: Zuidas) is increasingly a banking area, and is intended to become the new business-face of the Netherlands. There the recently expanded World trade center also has its location.
The Amsterdam Stock Exchange (AEX) is part of Euronext, and is the oldest stock exchange on earth. It still is one of the most important in Europe.
Amsterdam has two universities: the University of Amsterdam (Universiteit van Amsterdam), and the Free University (Vrije Universiteit). Other institutions for higher education include an art school, De Rietveldacademie, the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and the Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten. Amsterdam's International Institute of Social History is one of the world's largest documentary and research institutions concerning social history, and especially the history of the labour movement. Amsterdam's Hortus Botanicus, founded in the early 1600s, is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, with many old and rare specimens, amongst them the coffee plant that served as the parent for the entire coffee culture in Central and South America.
Public transport in Amsterdam, operated by Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf, Connexxion, Arriva, and Nederlandse Spoorwegen, consists of:
* National and international train connections
* 3 metro lines, 1 light rail line and 1 more metro line under construction, together the Amsterdam Metro
* 16 tram lines
* An express tram line (IJtram)
* 55 local bus lines
* Regional bus lines
* Several ferries for pedestrians and cyclists across the IJ (free of charge)
* A Fast Flying Ferry towards Velsen-Zuid on the North Sea shore
* Local night bus lines
A new underground line, the North/South Line (Noord/Zuidlijn), is under construction. The estimated completion date is in 2012.
As of the start of 2006, most of the regional transport is handled by Arriva; Connexxion used to handle all of regional transport and still operates a few lines.
During the construction of the Amsterdam Metro, plans to demolish the entire former Jewish neighbourhood near the Nieuwmarkt led to strong protests. The metro was still built (wall decorations at the Nieuwmarkt station are dedicated to the protests), but plans to build a highway through the neighbourhood in the centre of Amsterdam were abolished.
Amsterdam is known as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world and is a center of bicycle culture. Most main streets have bike paths. Bike racks are ubiquitous throughout the city. There are about 700,000 bicycles in the city. Each year, about 80,000 of them are stolen and 25,000 end up in the canals. In the city centre, driving a car is discouraged, parking fees are steep and a great number of streets are closed off for cars. The A10 Ringroad surrounds the city and provides connections to four major motorways: the A1, A2, A4 and A8, as well as quite a few exits to roads leading into the city (S101 through S118).
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, is less than 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central Station. It is the biggest airport in the Netherlands, the fourth largest in Europe and the tenth largest in the world. It handles about 42 million passengers a year and is home base to KLM, since 2004 part of Air France-KLM.
Amsterdam is the home town of Ajax, a team in the Dutch Football League. Its home base is the modern stadium Amsterdam ArenA, located in the south-east of the city. The team shares that facility with the Amsterdam Admirals, an American football team in NFL Europa.
In 1928, Amsterdam hosted the Games of the IXth Olympiad. The Olympic Stadium built for the occasion has been completely restored and is now used for cultural and sporting events.
Amsterdam also is home to a famous ice rink, the Jaap Eden baan. The Amstel Tijgers play in this arena in the Dutch ice hockey premier league. In speed skating many international championships have been fought in the 400-meter lane of this ice rink.
The city also has a baseball team, the Amsterdam Pirates who play in the Dutch Major League. There are three field hockey teams, Amsterdam, Pinoké and Hurley, who play their matches around the Wagener Stadium. These teams are often referred to as playing in Amsterdam; however, all of them (even Amsterdam) are playing their matches on the grounds of neighbourcity Amstelveen. There is also a basketball team, the Amsterdam Astronauts who compete in the Dutch premier division and play their games in the Sporthallen Zuid, near the Olympic Stadium.
Since 1999 the city of Amsterdam honours its best sportsmen and -women at the Amsterdam Sports Awards. Boxer Raymond Joval and field hockey midfielder Carole Thate were the first to receive the awards in 1999.
* April - Koninginnedag, Queen's day, 30 April, former Queen Juliana's birthday, also the day Juliana transferred her title to her daughter Beatrix
* June - The Amsterdam Roots Festival, last week of June, international music festival
* June - Holland Festival is an international festival for theater, music, dance, opera, film and art, throughout the month of June
* August - Amsterdam Pride, first weekend of August, gay pride weekend
* August - Hartjesdag, 3rd weekend in August
* August - Uitmarkt, last weekend in August, the start of the cultural season
* August - Amsterdam Tournament, late August, International Football tournament hosted by AFC Ajax
* August - Sail Amsterdam, a five-yearly event, when tall ships from all over the world can be visited; next event 2010
* October - Amsterdam Marathon, mid-October
* October – The Bokbier Beer Festival in the Beurs van Berlage (Old stock Exchange)
* October – Grachtenrace (Canal Race), 25km rowing race, 2nd Saturday in October
* November - Shadow Festival of Documentary Film
* November – December The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)
* November - Cannabis Cup, mid-November annual cannabis competition, hosted by High Times
* December – Sinterklaas
 Tourist attractions
Leaning buildings are common in Amsterdam
Leaning buildings are common in Amsterdam
Main article: List of tourist attractions in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is noted for many outstanding museums, including the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum, Rembrandt House Museum, and its world-class symphony orchestra, the Concertgebouworkest, whose home base is the Concertgebouw. The Van Gogh Museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the world. Anne Frank House is also a popular tourist attraction.
Amsterdam is also famous for its red-light district, de Wallen. Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands at specific places. The red-light district is located in the center of the city along major canals and is clearly marked on maps.
Centred around the Wallen, but also elsewhere in the city, coffee shops sell cannabis. This is not completely legal but is tolerated when small quantities of cannabis (up to 5 grams) are involved.
* Karel Appel - painter
* Frits Bolkestein - Dutch politician and former EU commissioner
* George Hendrik Breitner - painter
* Simon Carmiggelt - writer and columnist
* Johan Cruijff - soccer player
* Anne Frank - Holocaust diarist
* Theo van Gogh - filmmaker and columnist
* André Hazes - singer
* Freddy Heineken - beer magnate
* Meindert Hobbema - painter
* Jozef Israëls - painter
* Wim Kok - former prime minister
* Harry Mulisch - writer
* Multatuli - writer
* Rembrandt - painter
* Baruch Spinoza - philosopher