Amsterdam Trade & Logistics Historical Highlights

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historical highlights


Contents Foreword..............................................................4 Gateway to Holland...........................................6 Chapel with a bar around the corner.............8 A magnet for newcomers...............................10 Sailing and roaming around the world........12 The wise merchant............................................14 Greenland on the canal...................................16 Mud-mills, earholes and ship’s camels........18 All manner of people.......................................20 The world’s bankers.........................................22 Resourceful Warehousing Cooperatives....24 A forest of windmill sails.................................26 A royal pencil line.............................................30 Steam and exotic destinations......................32 An airport below sea-level.............................34 Flowers for the whole world..........................38 World port.........................................................40 Amsterdam Metropolitan Area....................44 Hyperconnected...............................................46 Hub Amsterdam...............................................48

A flight signpost at Schiphol Airport. A female British pilot is accompanied by KLM representatives. Photo: anonymous, 1930. Schiphol Archives, Amsterdam City Archives.


Foreword If logistics is the creation of seamless connections, it would seem that Amsterdammers must have trade and logistics in their genes. Moreover, the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area occupies a prime position for handling the flow of goods from all over the world and with nodal points like Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Port of Amsterdam, Greenport Aalsmeer and the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX), it gives immediate access to a close-knit network of air, road, water, rail and data connections. This natural logistical advantage not only drives the regional economy, it is also largely responsible for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area’s international position as a global business hub. When it comes to logistical expertise, the city of Amsterdam has centuries of experience. The small village which arose at the mouth of the Amstel in the thirteenth century was strategically placed. The Amstel opens into the IJ, an inland extension of the Zuiderzee which in turn connects with the North Sea. In an era when all transportation was by water, this protected and strategic site was ideally suited to handle the trade which arrived from several of the world’s oceans during the following centuries, as a result of which the city experienced explosive growth. The famous canal district was constructed at the start of the seventeenth century, a planned urban expansion whose like had never been seen before, adding an entirely new, fashionable area to the city. Routing the ships from the port along the new canals played an important role in the development of the canal ring. As trade continued uninterrupted,

Profile view of Amsterdam from the IJ with view of the Port of Amsterdam, ca. 1660. Print, by Anonymous, published by Berey. Amsterdam City Archives.


and with newly-built warehouses along the canals, goods could be loaded and unloaded directly from the water. This expertise in logistical operations has been passed on from generation to generation, with the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area taking pride in maintaining its status and tradition. Globalisation today has created new standards of logistical organization in the traffic of goods and people, imposing increasingly higher and more complex demands on the region’s performance as a logistic hub. For this reason, the local government, its business associates and knowledge institutions continue to invest in collaboration and innovation. The stories in this book together demonstrate our instinctive ability for logistical foresight and enterprise. You will read about Amsterdam’s centuries-old traditions, often rooted in the development of inventive new ways of exploiting its position as a logistics hub during periods of enormous urban expansion and growth. Our rich history laid the foundation for today’s trading spirit and logistical expertise. Surely this instinct is embedded in our DNA. Eberhard van der Laan, Mayor of Amsterdam


Gateway to Holland Is it a coincidence that the oldest written source for the history of Amsterdam deals with the transportation of goods? On 27 October 1275 Count Floris V of Holland granted a ‘Toll Privilege’ to the inhabitants of a stretch of wet land alongside a dam at the mouth of the Amstel river. They were thenceforth permitted to transport their merchandise throughout the whole of Holland without having to pay a toll (tax) to the count. At that time Amsterdam comprised just a few miserable settlements on the banks

of the Amstel whose residents were farmers and fishermen, but it appears there were also entrepreneurial types among them who knew how to profit from the count’s privilege. Historians maintain that these former sailors began by transporting fish they had caught themselves, the only product which would have been available in abundance in this area. Eventually they probably also carried butter and cheese they bought from farmers in the vicinity. Around 1300 a market was also held at the dam on

The Amsterdam City Archives are housed in the former headquarters of the trading company, the Nederlandsche Handelmaatschappij. Photo: Edwin van Eis, 2011.


the Amstel. At that time Amsterdam ships with cargoes sailed the inner waterways of the diocese of Utrecht and the county of Holland. There are no indications that they took their wares any further south than the delta of the Rhine and Maas/Meuse, but this has not been ruled out. The earliest development of Amsterdam as a regional trading centre is linked closely to the dam which was constructed on the Amstel somewhere between 1265 and 1275, not long before the ‘Toll Privilege’ was granted. In an era when all transportation occurred by water, the first Amsterdammers had settled in a strategic place where the Amstel flowed into the IJ, and that expanse of water was connected to the North Sea via the Zuiderzee, the South Sea. The construction of the dam created an inland harbour which also offered an attractive halting place and mooring for non-Amsterdam vessels. Sailors from the area to the north of the IJ and along the Zuiderzee moored in this harbour and discharged their cargoes. The goods were transferred to other vessels on the landward side of the dam, to be carried further inland. Thus Amsterdam became the Poort van Holland (Gateway to Holland), an important entrepôt or transit port for an increasing variety of products. During

the fourteenth century Amsterdam ships sailed the Rhine as far as Cologne, and along the Scheldt to Bruges, and also brought goods back from these cities. Apart from fish, butter and cheese, the dam also saw the transhipment of beer, wine, grain, currants, silk and spices; all this gave the city employment and revenue. In the Middle Ages Amsterdam was not the only place in Holland to be granted a count’s ‘Toll Privilege’, but the city would certainly benefit from it more than the others thanks to its favourable location. The charter from 1275 is still regarded as Amsterdam’s birth certificate. In the light of Amsterdam’s subsequent evolution into a major transit centre for trade and traffic, one can see the ‘Toll Privilege’ of 1275 the very first tax break which gave it its initial impetus.

Document from 1275 in which Floris V, Count of Holland, grants exemption from toll to the ‘folk who reside near Amsteldam’. Partly thanks to this exemption, Amsterdam was able to become a major commercial centre. Amsterdam City Archives.


Chapel with a bar around the corner Of all the foreigners who have come to work in Amsterdam over the years, merchants, seamen and sailors from the German Hamburg were the first who felt conspicuously at home. They arrived early in the city because of the beer trade, and formed a close community over the course of the fifteenth century. Beer from Germany, and particularly


from Hamburg, was much appreciated in Western Europe because it tasted good and could be kept for some time. In 1351 Count William II of Holland stipulated that Amsterdam was to be the only Dutch city where this beer was permitted to be imported. This of course made it easier for him to impose a toll (tax) on this popular beer.

At the start of the fifteenth century the Hamburgers in Amsterdam established their own Brotherhood, and they erected an altar for their own use in the city’s first church, the Oude Kerk. By the end of the century they felt so much at home that they even had their own chapel built on the northern side of the church. From then on in their second mother city they had their own burial site. They financed the construction and furnishing of the chapel from a tax on every barrel of Hamburg beer traded in Amsterdam, and this quickly accumulated. They equipped their chapel with a handsome stained-glass window, and had a picture of the Virgin Mary painted on a crescent moon in the dome. Hamburg’s coat of arms was shown under it. Just how ‘Amsterdams’ the Hamburgers felt among the Amsterdammers perhaps became clearer later in the fifteenth century, when the members of the Brotherhood paid considerable contributions for a new baptistry added to the Oude Kerk for general use. In fact they could hardly avoid it, since their

own children were baptised there. Apart from their chapel the Hamburgers also had other gathering places in the city. Around the corner from the Oude Kerk, in the Warmoesstraat, they met one another and other merchants in their own bars which were often operated by Germans. One of the best-known was called De Gulden Hand (The Golden Hand) and it was here that the Brotherhood held an annual celebratory banquet. De Gulden Hand was a centre for the trade from and to the German North Sea coast and the Baltic area. Not only beer, but also grain and wood were brought to Amsterdam from these regions. Conversely cloth, herring, butter, cheese and wine were carried to the north. This ‘Eastern Trade’ was hugely significant for the economic development of Amsterdam. The economic infrastructure and the freight capacity built up by it formed the foundation on which Amsterdam would flourish as a world trading centre in the seventeenth century. So this spectacular evolution was partly thanks to the Hamburgers, because they established the first business contacts between Amsterdam and the Baltic region within the context of their beer trade. Their presence in the mediaeval city is honoured to this day in commemorations, held in the Hamburgerkapel in the Oude Kerk, which still bears their name.

p.8 The Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Amsterdam. Photo: anonymous. p.9 Imported stoneware jug and beaker from Langerwehe, Germany. Date: ca. 1375-1425. Photo: Office for Monuments and Archaeology Amsterdam.


A magnet for newcomers “The renowned trading city of Amsterdam�. This was the description appended by cartographer Cornelis Anthonisz in 1544 above his splendid aerial-view map. The coloured woodcut edition, reprinted many times for promotional purposes after its original appearance, shows a powerful port city. The painted original from 1538 is still preserved in the Amsterdam Museum in Kalverstraat. In the sixteenth century Amsterdammers were already proud of what they had achieved, and with good reason. Their port was renowned throughout Europe and played a central role in the movement of goods between north and south. Nevertheless they were still in competition with the SouthNetherlands port city of Antwerp, the axis of European trade around which everything revolved. The war which broke out in 1568 between the rebellious Dutch Republic and the Spanish king turned things around. In 1585 Antwerp fell into Spanish hands and became isolated, not least because of a blockade of the harbour by the rebels. In the years which followed Amsterdam took over Antwerp’s role as the main junction for European trade. This was accompanied by the arrival of a stream of foreign merchants, entrepreneurs and other opportunists from countries as far removed as Portugal, the Baltic states, Norway, Scotland, England and the German Empire. An entire wave arrived after the fall of Antwerp in 1585. Together with the Portuguese Jews who left their country for religious reasons, it was these Southern Dutch refugees in particular


who would play a significant role in their new mother city. But the new Amsterdammers arrived not only because they were persecuted on religious grounds or they were fleeing the violence of war. Many of them chose the city as the ideal place to continue or expand their businesses. Here they encountered a place where buyers and sellers had common ground. Thanks to the flourishing trade in the Baltic area, an enormous cargo capacity had arisen. The city authorities had ensured a protected harbour, quays, cranes and other facilities. All these factors together acted as a magnet for newcomers. Between 1578 and 1622 the number of Amsterdammers grew from around 25,000 to 100,000. Not all the immigrants where wealthy, but those who were brought with them their money, knowledge and a network of relationships. Some had experience as bankers, underwriters and intermediaries in the international payment traffic. They helped to make it possible for Amsterdam to capture a leading position in the money and capital market in the seventeenth century. Many had family members or trusted connections in the most important trading cities in England,

France, Italy, Portugal, Russia or Spain. They augmented the network existing in Amsterdam with cities in Northern Germany, Scandinavia and along the Baltic coast. The Portuguese Jews sometimes maintained contacts with entrepreneurial family members in the colonial empires of Spain and Portugal. From Amsterdam they were able to spread their trade to South America. The Southern Netherlanders and the

Portuguese Jews made a significant contribution to the explosive growth of trade and industry in Amsterdam around 1600, but they were not the only ones. All the immigrants together – from internationally-operating merchants and bankers to simple artisans and individual labourers – contributed to the city’s rise. Their initiatives and networks became intertwined with the much longer-established commerce in the city, creating new opportunities for everyone.

Amsterdam aerial view. Woodcut by Cornelis Anthonisz, 1544.


Sailing and roaming around the world Inlaid in the marble floor of the main room in their new Town Hall on the Dam, the Amsterdammers had the Eastern and Western hemispheres depicted in mosaic in the 17th century. In their imagination they could roam there across the entire known world. In reality they did actually navigate the world’s seas. Not only did they call at all the major ports in Europe, but also those in Africa, Asia and America. Most of the ships came back to the harbour on the IJ fully-laden, where this wealth accumulated: furs and caviar from Russia, semi-tropical fruits and silk from the Near East, sugar and other tropical wares from South America, gold and ivory from West Africa – this is just a selection of all the goods they brought back. The richest cargoes came from Asia: coffee, tea, spices and in particular, pepper.

The headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, or VOC in its Dutch acronym, were in Amsterdam. The administrators governed their empire from the stillextant Oost-Indisch Huis in the Oude Hoogstraat. Their Company was founded in 1602 and was not only the world’s first multinational, but also the first trading partnership with fixed capital and shares traded on the stock exchange. Without exception everything the company vessels brought back from Asia first landed in Amsterdam, and then later found its way to a variety of European destinations. To this day the West-Indisch Huis is still on the Herenmarkt, and even now it is still the headquarters of the WestIndische Compagnie (WIC), founded in 1621 for the

Print of the tympanum on the façade of the town hall, now the Royal Palace Amsterdam. Depicted are the continents, paying tribute to the patroness of the city of Amsterdam. Drawn by Hubertus Quellinus, 1665. Amsterdam City Archives.


purpose of trading with the coasts of Africa an America. The involvement of this Compagnie in the transportation of slaves from one continent to another is a less salubrious chapter in the city’s history. To Amsterdam itself the West-Indische Compagnie mainly brought sugar, which by the middle of the seventeenth century was being processed in more than fifty refineries in the city. While increasing numbers of Amsterdam ships explored the world and returned with new merchandise, the old trade continued apace. Sailings to the Baltic area grew in volume. In particular the transportation of grain from these areas gave the city a leading position in Europe. In the 17th century, nowhere near all the goods circulating in the harbour could actually

be traded on the Dam as they were in days gone by. Nevertheless this square remained the most important meeting point for Amsterdam’s merchants themselves. For their convenience a huge Beursgebouw (an Exchange building) was erected over the waters of the Rokin in 1611, and from 1609 they had also been able to congregate at the Wisselbank (exchange bank), accommodated on the lower level of the city hall. The Amsterdammers in the seventeenth century were well aware of their significance in the world economy. This is perhaps best expressed in the proud Town Hall. As the Koninklijk Paleis or Royal Palace, it is there to this day for the admiration of all. You are even permitted inside, but to preserve the marble floor you may no longer wander back and forth across the Eastern and Western hemispheres.


The wise merchant Midway through the Golden Age, Amsterdam was a trading metropolis with between 160,000 and 175,000 inhabitants, the third-biggest city in Europe after London and Paris. Amsterdam’s developed surface area grew by a factor of four between 1585 and 1662. The port was also expanded several times during this period, and was four kilometres wide in 1662. The hundreds of ships on the IJ and the forest of masts in the Damrak made a significant impression on visitors.

Because fast traffic with the rest of Holland and other Dutch districts was a vital necessity, they facilitated the creation of a network of connections by water. Shippers travelled to other cities via absolutely straight excavated canals, with regular arrival and departure times. These ‘scheduled boats’ departed from fixed terminals. For trading in the most varied wares, the city had a number of markets which were held at regular times and places.

When the poet and philosopher Caspar Barlaeus wondered in 1632 what he most admired in his mother city, he reached a notable conclusion. It was the way in which Amsterdam was governed. “Mercator Sapiens” was the title of his inaugural lecturer as professor of the Athenaeum Illustre, the predecessor of the University of Amsterdam. The title is Latin for ‘the wise merchant’. Barlaeus praised the Amsterdam city authorities for their wisdom, calmness and sense of order. The gentlemen who served in Amsterdam’s Town Hall were merchants and entrepreneurs and their priority was to ensure that shipping, trade and industry could develop.

Safety and order in the city were guaranteed as much as possible by an extensive system of poor relief. With the help of church societies, the city authorities oversaw a system of relief and charity which was unique in Europe. Destitute invalids, the elderly and orphans could count on accommodation, food and clothing. Much was still left to be desired for the paupers making up the essential labour pool for the Amsterdam economy, but the system largely ensured peace in the city. To prevent any hunger disturbances or other forms of social unrest, the regents stored special stocks of grain so that bread could be distributed should it

Coloured etching by H. P. Schouten depicting the Athenaeum Illustre. Ca. 1766–1775. Amsterdam City Archives.


become necessary. Shipping, trade and industry cannot be manned without schooling, and so Amsterdam had a remarkably high level and range of education. Two-thirds of the city’s male population, and half the women, could write their own names. There were schools where the sons of the citizenry could learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Those who persisted could master the French language, bookkeeping, mathematics, geography, history and astronomy. There were seamanship schools, where former mariners could pass on the tricks of the trade to their pupils. The most inquisitive sons of citizens could be prepared for a university education at Latin schools. With this academic background they could even

move on to the Athenaeum Illustre after 1632, but to complete their studies they had to go to Leiden or a foreign university. The ‘Illustere School van Amsterdam’ was accommodated in the still-extant Agnietenkapel (Agnieten chapel) on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal. In addition to lectures given to students in that building in the seventeenth century, public lectures were also open to the citizens. Here after completing his business or governing his city, the Amsterdam merchant citizen could take his place on the college benches to devote himself to history, philosophy or other sciences: a ‘wise merchant’ could always learn a little more.

1. Portrait of Caspar Barlaeus. Drawn by Jacobus Buys, 1786. Amsterdam City Archives. 2. The exchange building in Amsterdam, with Mercury, God of trade, hovering over the inner courtyard. Etching by an anonymous artist. Ca. 1670–1699. Amsterdam City Archives.


Greenland on the canal Amsterdam was known in the seventeenth century as Europe’s warehouse. Because goods arrived for handling from all over the world, the medieval city acquired a growing system of storehouses, wharves, quays and canals. It is no coincidence that Amsterdam’s fame around the world rested on this logistical infrastructure, particularly the unique ring of canals which were accorded a place on Unesco’s World Heritage list in 2010. “Should one or other catastrophe flatten the Palace on the Dam,” wrote the Amsterdam artist and monument preservationist Jan Veth in 1916, “then Amsterdam would still retain its character, which is, after all, expressed in its canals.” Most goods arriving in the port were carried further over the waters of the canals, to be stored in huge warehouses, often built in rows side by side. Among the oldest and most beautiful of these complexes, the Groenlandse (Greenland) warehouses at the start of the Keizersgracht, occupy a significant place. The commission for the building was awarded in 1620 by a group of participants in the Noordse Compagnie (Northern Company), which hunted whales in the polar seas. Of the five warehouses which were erected on the Keizersgracht, three remain. They were used to store whale oil, in barrels on the various floors and in huge pits in the cellar.

Some sixty of these pits were found during a restoration in the 1920s, twenty per building. Each could hold some 10,000 litres. In total around a thousand storehouses were built in Amsterdam in the

The Groenland warehouses on the Keizersgracht. Photo: Han van Gool.


became a large-scale project. Building the ring of canals in fact produced a more or less systematic separation between living and working. Plots for storehouses were assigned along the canals with a traffic use, and alongside the port. An ingenious system of locks and movable, cantilevered bridges was developed to facilitate the movement of goods. The merchandise could be hoisted into the building from outside, right up to the very top floor, with the warehouses often being equipped for this purpose with a permanent block and tackle system.

seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At the end of the sixteenth century, when trade increased to such an extent that merchants could no longer simply store their wares in the attics above their homes, the construction of warehouses

Many warehouses can still be seen along the Prinsengracht, Brouwersgracht and Oudeschans, but like the Greenland warehouse, they are also situated along the other canals in the vicinity of the port. One still finds them frequently on the islands built up in the IJ within the context of the port’s expansion, Prinseneiland, Bickerseiland and Realeneiland. Some of these warehouses still bear on their facades the name of the area, country or part of the world from which the goods they stored came. A significant number have now been converted into apartments. This produced a small problem in the Greenland warehouses at the end of the 1970s: the walls were so saturated with whale oil that they were almost impossible to paint.


Mud-mills, earholes and ship’s camels Amsterdam’s natural location has made it a major port for shipping traffic, but this did not happen of its own accord. As far back in the Middle Ages the outer harbour of the IJ threatened to silt up as a consequence of the tides. For sailing ships with tall masts, access to the inner harbour of the Damrak was hindered in the seventeenth century by the Nieuwe Brug (New Bridge), essential for the internal city traffic and always a busy meeting place. And ultimately the only shipping route from and to the North Sea in the nineteenth century was dangerous and shallow in many places. The Amsterdammers came up with highly original solutions for these problems, with memorable names. MUD-MILLS In 1575, in order to dredge the harbour quickly and efficiently, the versatile artist and engineer Joost Jansz. Beeldsnijder invented his ‘modder molen’, a mud mill, a forerunner of the modern

dredger. These were two flat barges with between them a sort of conveyor belt, driven by a treadmill. The belt was fitted with a spoon-shaped bucket which scraped across the bottom of the IJ river. The mud was brought to the surface and was carried off through a pipe to barges ready to remove it. Initially these ‘mud mills’ were driven by human power, but horses were later used. At one time five of these early dredgers were operating in Amsterdam to maintain the required depth of the port. EARHOLES In 1596 the Amsterdam master builder Hendrick de Keyser applied for a patent on an invention which made it possible for the captains of sailing ships to proceed under a bridge without lowering their masts. An opening was left in the middle of the bridge, across the width of the roadway, covered with two movable, hinged planks positioned

Coloured etching of the IJ by Jan van Call. A mud mill is depicted at the front-right. Ca. 1690 –1700. Amsterdam City Archives.


upright against each other. If the skipper steered the mast precisely in the middle between the planks, they flapped up and he was able to proceed ‘without the help of human hands’. Of course this required a degree of skill at the helm, and perhaps sometimes also a little help from passers-by. De Keyser’s invention was an improvement on a principle already known as the ‘earhole’, a word whose origins in its Dutch version are uncertain. The best-known bridge with an ‘earhole’ in Amsterdam was the Nieuwe Brug. SHIP’S CAMELS Up to the nineteenth century the only connection between Amsterdam’s port and the North Sea was via the Zuiderzee, today the IJsselmeer. Navigation of the shallows of the Zuiderzee was hazardous, in particular the Pampus sandbar. If the winds and tides were unfavourable, ships could wait there endlessly. The English

equivalent of the common Dutch expression ‘voor pampus liggen’ is generally given as being dead to the world, or out for the count. But to this day for Amsterdammers it has a slightly different connotation: being out of circulation, or ruled out. In 1688 the Amsterdam city carpenter Meeuwis Meindertsz. Bakker came up with a solution. He invented a construction of two enormous wooden crates or boxes, each shaped in such a way on one side that the hull of a ship could be clamped between them. The crates were first filled with water and the ship was then attached. Once the crates were pumped out, they would rise taking the ship higher with them, so that the entire construction could then be towed through the shallows. In the eighteenth century Amsterdam had three of these monster contraptions, which were called ‘ship’s camels’. Just like the camels of the desert, they lifted up their loads and carried them further.


All manner of people “In this huge city I am the only one who is not conducting any type of trade. Everyone is so busy earning money that I could live here my entire life without being noticed by anyone at all.” So wrote the French philosopher René Descartes (15961650) during a stay in Amsterdam in 1629. But do not misunderstand: he meant it positively. Amsterdam left the free-thinker Descartes in peace, where he had feared persecution in the land of his birth, France. He was not the only foreigner to appreciate Amsterdam’s social climate. Seventeenth-century Amsterdam was a melting pot of languages and cultures. Along with Dutch, you would also hear French, German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish or Portuguese. The Jordaan district on the west side of the city was home to many Flemish inhabitants, while in the Weteringbuurt on the south side lived the French. Scots and English were often to be found in the vicinity of the Westerkerk. On the eastern side of the city Jews visibly maintained their own customs and religion. On and around the Geldersekade

many German workmen lived, along with Scandinavian seafarers. Yet despite a certain concentration of groups in specific neighbourhoods, the separation was anything but sharp. Amsterdam was renowned as a city where the city authorities and population were relatively tolerant of strangers with a different religion or different customs. The official religion was Calvinism, but at the end of the sixteenth century Spanish and Portuguese Jews were welcome and they could continue their lives as their customs dictated. In the seventeenth century around twelve thousand French Huguenots found shelter in Amsterdam, where they could establish their own Protestant churches. Catholics were tolerated as long as they did not practise their religion too openly. They were only allowed to conduct their masses in churches which were not recognisable as such from the outside. This tolerance towards strangers had everything to do with the commercial interests over which the city governors exercised authority. Portuguese and

The lavish interior of the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. Photo: Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands.


Spanish merchants brought money and relations with them. French Huguenots had very special professional skills in the textile industry, or were experienced bookkeepers. The Catholic community included hard-working tradesmen and rich merchants. Anyone who could or wanted to do his bit for the city’s economic prosperity was welcome, certainly as long as he didn’t cause any trouble. That was where a line was drawn. What happened when you crossed that line was evident from the fate of the famous Amsterdam freethinker Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), who had to flee this city of his birth in 1656 when he ended up completely at odds with his own

Jewish religious community. He was cast out and had to live outside Amsterdam, but it did not dampen his appreciation of the city. This is clear from one of his books, published in 1670, where he wishes to illustrate his contention that a good government should guarantee the freedom of its citizens: “A good example is Amsterdam, where the blessings of freedom of thought and expression are apparent in the flourishing of the city. Everyone can see and admire it. This prosperous city hosts all possible people of every race and religion, together in harmony. When they do business with each other, all that counts is whether the other can pay and is trustworthy.”

A colourful group of merchants on the Dam, with the new town hall under construction on the left. Johannes Lingelbach, 1656. Collection Amsterdam Museum.


The world’s bankers The bank which served as the model for all the world’s central banks once stood on the Dam in Amsterdam. The city governors themselves took the initiative in 1609 to establish this ‘Wisselbank’ or Exchange bank, to be accommodated in the city hall. Here merchants of all nationalities could

surety for this deposit payment system. This was an excellent solution to the chaos caused by different coinages and dubious money-changers. As a result the Wisselbank acquired an international reputation for trustworthiness. Just how solid this reputation was, is apparent from the story

deposit coins in return for an addition to their bank balance. Business transactions where the parties involved held an account with the bank could be settled in its books. The powerful city of Amsterdam stood

French essayist and philosopher Voltaire (1694-1788) tells in his book ´The Century of Louis XIV’(1751). The anecdote is set in the year 1672, when the Dutch Republic was at war with several neighbours simultane-

Four governors of the Amsterdam Coopers’ and Wine-rackers’ Guild. Painting by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, 1673. Collection Amsterdam Museum.


ously. At the very nadir of this ‘disastrous year’ there was a run on the Wisselbank. Account-holders feared the worst, but to everyone’s surprise the cashiers on the Dam paid out without quibbling. Both at home and abroad, this made a deep impression, partly because, as Voltaire explains, the coins paid out sometimes bore the traces of the fire which had struck the bank dozens of years previously: they still remained there, untouched! Is it any wonder that merchants throughout Europe liked to settle their transactions through bills drawn on Amsterdam? Payment was guaranteed and the rate was stable. Over the course of the seventeenth century the city evolved partly thanks to the Wisselbank, into an important financial centre. In the eighteenth century an increasing volume of capital was lent at home and abroad, along with a growing participation in, among others, the markets for shares and transport insurance. Amsterdammers had become bankers to the world. Amsterdam’s success as a financial centre was evident in the hectic business conducted in the Beurs, or Exchange, which just like the Wisselbank had been based on the Dam since 1611. There in addition to goods and negotiable instruments,

shares and other notes were handled in increasing volumes. This trade had originally begun with shares in the Dutch East India Company (1602), which is in fact considered to be the world’s first public limited company. Over the eighteenth century the trade conducted there consisted not only of negotiable instruments from the most diverse international companies, but also countless domestic and foreign government securities. The Wisselbank, the cradle of this all, vanished in the turbulent years of war and revolution towards the end of the eighteenth century. When peace returned, international relations had been so convulsed, both politically and economically, that there was no likelihood of the bank’s return. But the principle the Wisselbank had introduced in 1609, of a reliable bank with a government guarantee, lives on to this very day in the international banking world – for instance, in the legendary Bank of England in London, the city which took over Amsterdam’s leading role in the financial world in the nineteenth century. What would ultimately become England's central bank was established in 1694, with Amsterdam’s Wisselbank as its prime example.

Money chest and cart used in the Wisselbank. Ca. 1650–1700. Amsterdam City Archives. Stored ledgers from the Wisselbank in the Amsterdam City Archives. (background)


Resourceful Warehousing Cooperatives Blue-caps, purple-caps and green-caps: these are not characters from a fairy-tale, but the names of different groups of workmen who for centuries played a dominant role in the transportation and storage of goods in Amsterdam’s port. In the late Middle Ages tasks were assigned largely to members of the Weighing House Porters Guild. These men were organised in separate cooperative groupings called ‘vemen’ or warehousing companies. The different companies were distinguished by some visible features, often – but not always – in the form of the colour of the members’ headgear. More than twenty of these cooperatives operated in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. The company brothers carried goods which had to be weighed, from the port to the Weighing House. After weighing, they were stored in warehouses. They handled almost all the goods conveyed to Amsterdam, except for cereals, beer and peat (which were handled by the cereal, beer and peat carriers respectively). Over time the groups also took over responsibility for the guarding, sorting and administration of the goods in the warehouses. In this they were carefully monitored both by the merchants for whom they worked, and by Amsterdam’s city authorities, since it was important to ensure the meticulous execution of their duties for the purpose of imposing taxes. For more than two centuries merchants were compelled to use the services


of these company brothers. They lost this privileged position at the start of the nineteenth century, but came up with a solution. Jointly they bought or hired warehouses and offered their services as independent storage firms. Their experience in handling vulnerable goods like tea and coffee stood them in good stead. They were even able to expand their services, and also began to issue official storage documentation. With these ‘warrants’ the goods could change hands without having to leave the warehouse, which certainly made life easier for the dealers. The services of the warehousing firms found an eager market, and in the course of the nineteenth century the former medieval brotherhoods evolved into large modern companies. For their clients they arranged customs revenues, and they tested, weighed or marked the goods and assumed responsibility for their delivery and transportation. Their heyday followed the opening of the North Sea Canal in 1876, when the port of Amsterdam became accessible to large oceangoing ships. This period was marked by the construction of impressive new warehouses which they commissioned

along newly-constructed port quays. After the Second World War the warehousing firms began to get into difficulty, particularly because the conveyance of coffee, tea and tobacco to Amsterdam declined drastically as a consequence of the independence of the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. Further decline followed with the arrival of containerisation in the 1960s and their enormous warehouses

gradually emptied. After having played a vital role in the port of Amsterdam for centuries, the colourful names of blue-caps, purple-caps and green-caps disappeared in a wave of company mergers along with those of the other groupings. Their conspicuous buildings generally took on new functions, and in the city’s landscape they still bear witness to the glorious age of the Amsterdam warehousing firm.

Dam Square viewed from the Vijgendam. Drawn by C. Pronk, ca. 1730. Amsterdam City Archives.


A forest of windmill sails One of Europe’s first industrial zones was sited to the north-west of Amsterdam in the seventeenth century where, in the Zaanstreek district, one windmill after another sprang up for industrial production. By the eighteenth century some six hundred of these windmills were in operation simultaneously, and on busy days foreign visitors gaped at this moving forest of sails, or blades. “Sans pareil!” exclaimed the French Emperor Napoleon on his visit to Zaandam in 1811. It began with sawing wood. At the end of the sixteenth century the North Hollander Cornelis Corneliszoon from Uitgeest succeeded in developing a crankshaft to convert the rotating movement of mill blades into an up and down motion, enabling wood to be sawn at high speed and with plenty of power. This fulfilled

a serious demand. Huge volumes of wood were conveyed to the port of the upcoming trading metropolis of Amsterdam, destined for export, house construction and shipbuilding. There was too little wind and space in Amsterdam itself for all the windmills needed to saw that wood, but there was plenty in the Zaanstreek district. But it was not only sawmills that sprang up along the river Zaan. The rapid rise of Amsterdam in the seventeenth century created a demand for the manufacture of chalk, paint, paper and other industrial products. In fact most Zaan millers were involved in the production of foodstuffs and luxury foods. They milled corn into flour, seeds into mustard, nuts into oil, tobacco into snuff and cacao beans into chocolate. Many of the raw materials they

Windmills dominate the landscape of the Zaanse Schans in Zaandam. Photo: Niels Kim.


used entered the port of Amsterdam, and the manufactured products found their way through the same port to other manufacturers or directly to customers. The Zaan windmills subsequently evolved into factories and attracted other economic activities. The town of Wormer, for example, specialised in the manufacture of ship’s biscuits, at the time an essential item for feeding seafarers on long voyages. Huge ship wharves were built in Zaandam, and sail-making flourished. The importance of Zaan shipbuilding was confirmed when Tsar Peter the Great of Russia stayed in Zaandam during the summer of 1697 to study the skills practised in the shipyards. He had in fact done the same in Amsterdam, but there he had attracted too many curious onlookers. Memories of

the visit of Tsar Peter are still cherished, and the house where he lived is now a museum. Nowhere else in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth century would you find so much industry concentrated in such a small piece of land as in the Zaan district. The moving forest of windmill sails of the time may no longer exist, but a respectable number of windmills can still be seen along the Zaan. They can still be admired as working museum windmills, particularly in and around the museum park the Zaanse Schans, where their blades rotate not far from huge modern factories, which often produce foodstuffs just as they did in former times. The Zaan district is not only one of the oldest industrial areas of Europe, but is still fully active.


Aerial-view map of the North Sea Canal between Amsterdam and IJmuiden at an unknown scale. Drawn by P.J. Otten and published by C.F. Stemler, around 1867. Amsterdam City Archives.



A royal pencil line “Can’t it be like this?” the Dutch King William I is said to have asked his advisors in 1816, drawing a straight line from Amsterdam westwards to the North Sea on a map to indicate how he thought the port of Amsterdam could best be connected with the sea. That map has never been found, but the short route to the sea that His Majesty envisaged was indeed realized. It took a while, but the first spade went into the ground in 1865. The canal ran largely where North Holland was bisected by the waters of the IJ and was only connected to the rest of the country through a row of dunes. Contemporaries spoke of ‘digging through Holland at its narrowest point.’ Excavating the high dunes was spectacular, but the rest of the canal also produced its share of headaches. The IJ had to be drained to a considerable extent before a sailing channel of sufficient depth could be dredged. Apart from the use of a single machine in the final phase, the work was carried out manually. In 1876 King William III, grandson of King William I, officially opened the North Sea Canal. His pride was shared by the rest of the Netherlands. When opened, the new sailing channel was 27 metres wide and 6.5 metres deep, but work continued to improve on this until, around 1900, it was 50 metres wide and more than 10 metres deep. This made the port of Amsterdam accessible to large modern steamships.

The North Sea Canal was complemented in 1892 with the opening of the Merwede Canal (after further improvement in 1952, renamed the Amsterdam-Rhine

Part of the port of Amsterdam near the newly-built Central Station. Photo: Jacob Olie, 1890. Amsterdam City Archives.


Canal). Already in 1889 the opening of the new Central Station had connected Amsterdam with the European rail network. The station was close to the

port, which was modernised after the opening of the North Sea Canal with deeper basins and larger quays. For Amsterdam the inauguration of the North Sea Canal marked the beginning of a period of prosperity that the city had not experienced since the seventeenth century. Over the longer term, the North Sea Canal laid the foundation for the economic development of the entire area between Amsterdam and the North Sea. At the mouth of the canal IJmuiden developed into an important fishing and industrial port; the major steel company Hoogovens (now Tata Steel) established itself alongside the canal in 1918, and other companies followed. Later in the twentieth century Amsterdam extended westwards with the construction of new ports and industrial zones along the canal, past Zaanstad. These days the municipalities of Amsterdam, Zaanstad, Beverwijk and Velsen/IJmuiden along the North Sea Canal work together as the Zeehavens Amsterdam, or Amsterdam Seaports, the fourth port of North-Western Europe. Today the North Sea Canal is 270 metres wide and 15 metres deep. To improve accessibility, preparations are underway for the construction of a new sea lock at IJmuiden, to be 65 metres wide, 18 metres deep and 500 metres long. Almost two centuries after King William I’s pencil line, plans are still being drawn for improving the North Sea Canal.


Steam and exotic destinations Like an ocean steamer on the high seas the Scheepvaarthuis (literally, shipping house) dominates the point where Amsterdam’s Prins Hendrikkade meets another quay, called the Binnenkant. The sharp triangle is the bow of the ship, while the tower on the roof is the bridge. The architects wanted to capture the tradition of Dutch seafaring since the seventeenth century in stone, wood, glass and lead. Marine and shipping motifs recur everywhere in and on the building, with lead roof edging in the forms of ships’ ropes, waves and fish-heads. The Scheepvaarthuis owes its origin to the rise of Amsterdam’s steam-powered shipping following the opening of the North Sea Canal in 1876. The first phase of construction began in 1913 and the second was completed in 1928. The principals

were six Amsterdam shipping lines, whose names are redolent of a world of steam and exotic destinations. With ‘Koninklijke’ meaning Royal in Dutch, ‘Stoom’ meaning Steam and ‘Maatschappij’ denoting Company, they were the Koninklijke Nederlandse Stoomboot Maatschappij, the Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland, the Koninklijke Pakketvaart-Maatschappij, the Java-China-Japan-Lijn, the Koninklijke West-Indische Mail and the Nieuwe Rijnvaart Maatschappij. These companies all operated scheduled services, and together more or less covered the world’s oceans. Such scheduled services had been made possible by steam power, for, unlike sailing ships which depended on a favourable wind, steamships could maintain regular schedules. The shipping lines carried both cargo and passengers, and as the ships became steadily bigger, they could handle vast volumes. They had the Scheepvaarthuis built on Prins Hendrikkade to accommodate their Amsterdam offices jointly. To a considerable extent, the emergence of the shipping lines can be attributed to the increase in shipping traffic from and to the Dutch East Indies. After 1870 the

The Scheepvaarthuis, at close proximity to the old harbor of Amsterdam. Photo: Office for Monuments and Archaeology Amsterdam.


cultivation of coffee, tea, cocoa, tobacco and other tropical crops was opened up to private companies, leading to numerous initiatives: between 1870 and 1896 more than 160 cultivation and agricultural companies established their headquarters in Amsterdam, whose activities were far overseas. The transport of goods and people between the offices in Amsterdam and the colony was carried out for these companies by the shipping lines. Their schedules were reliable and once the Suez Canal had opened in 1869 the voyage times were unprecedentedly short. In addition to the scheduled services to Asian and other destinations, things also went well in these years with the ‘unofficial services’ operated by cargo ships without fixed schedules. Beside the huge quantities of colonial goods, increasing volumes of coal, subtropical fruits, grains and other cargoes were carried. All this port activity was in turn an impetus for trade and industry and the one sector which profited above all was shipbuilding.

The launching of ever more impressive iron steamships in the IJ was proof of just how well the city and the port were doing. After 1870 Amsterdam experienced a Second Golden Age, and the Scheepvaarthuis on Prins Hendrikkade today recalls that era. For some years now it has accommodated a major international five-star hotel. The Netherlands’ centuries of shipping and marine history can still be recalled in the carefully-preserved architectural details. On the outer façade the heads of explorers, seafaring heroes and other major names from shipping history gaze out over the busy traffic of Prins Hendrikkade, but the port and the IJ are not far away.

The SS Venezuela, a large passenger ship, built and docked in Amsterdam. Photo 1915. Amsterdam City Archives.


An airport below sea-level When a Farman biplane of the Aviation section of the Royal Netherlands Army (LVA) landed at Schiphol on 19 September 1916 the military aerodrome was still a grassy field with a few wooden sheds. The arrival of this rickety little ’plane belonging to the Dutch army marked the beginning of air traffic to and from this unusual site, an airfield four metres below sea-level on the bed of the former Haarlemmermeer lake, drained in 1852. In 1919, Schiphol became the headquarters of the newly founded Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij (literally the Royal Dutch Airlines) now universally known simply as KLM. In 1920 KLM began flights to London and Hamburg; other European cities followed, including Paris, Berlin, Malmö and Basel. On 1 October 1924 a Fokker F VII took to the air from Schiphol heading for Batavia, the capital of what was then the Dutch

East Indies (today: Jakarta), the very first intercontinental flight. In 1926 the Amsterdam municipality assumed responsibility for managing that part of Schiphol designated for civilian flights, and immediately began to invest heavily in preparation for the Olympic Games, which were to be held in Amsterdam two years later. By 1928 there was a station building with traffic towers on the airfield, and in the 1930s the grass largely disappeared under runways of hot-rolled asphalt. In the beginning, connections with nearby Amsterdam were seriously inadequate, but a tarred road was finally constructed in 1935. After the Second World War Schiphol really ‘took off’, as it were. The war damage was repaired and with the growth of air travel in the following years, major plans for expansion were soon drawn up. Schiphol became the Netherlands’

The Fokker F.VII during its first flight to the Indies. Photo: anonymous, 1924. Schiphol Archives, Amsterdam City Archives.


national airport, and in 1958 it became a ‘structuurvennootschap’ – a statutary two-tier board company with the state as its majority shareholder. Work began on a new airport in 1957, north-west of the existing terminal. There was a pressing need for modernisation, because jet aircraft which were coming into use required longer runways than the old prop aeroplanes. In 1967 Schiphol ‘relocated’ to its new site and the terminal with its piers went into service. The site of the former airport has since been known as SchipholOost, or Schiphol East. There were further modifications after 1967 to meet the steadily increasing demands of modern aviation. The first offices and cargo buildings appeared in the vicinity of Schiphol at the end of the 1970s, the beginning of a new urban sprawl of commercial

premises which would gradually develop around the airport. The area became a sought-after location for domestic and international companies wanting to benefit from rapid international connections on their doorstep. Close to Schiphol arose the impressive high-rise buildings of the modern commercial centre, Zuid-As. In 1920 a passenger at Schiphol airport could choose between two destinations: London or Hamburg. That year 345 passengers were carried, and 25,000 kilos of air-freight. By 2013 Amsterdam Airport Schiphol accessed directly more than 323 destinations and 52.6 million passengers passed through its gates, while the airfreight it handled weighed more than 1.5 million tons. On the eve of its centenary celebrations in 2016, with its 426,000 flights a year Schiphol is today Europe’s fourth largest airport.

The cheerful crew of this Fokker F.VIII are about to make their first flight. The Fokker F.VIII made its maiden flight in 1927. Photo: anonymous, ca. 1929.



Skyline of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Photo: Schiphol Group.


Flowers for the whole world In ‘Café Welkom’ in the town of Aalsmeer, a couple of flower and plant growers set up the ‘Bloemenlust’ (literally, flower passion) auction at the end of 1911. What they wanted was an honest price for their products. Today in Aalsmeer, a stone’s throw from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the Koninklijke Coöperatieve Bloemenveiling FloraHolland (known simply today as FloraHolland) has its headquarters — a company operating around the world with several branches in the Netherlands and one in Germany. Aalsmeer is now the world’s largest trading centre for flowers and plants. It was originally poverty that drove Aalsmeer’s residents to the cultivation of trees and vegetables. The land in this sodden piece of the Netherlands had been threatened and eroded by water since the Middle Ages. Previously, the people of Aalsmeer had scrape a living by digging out the peat from under their feet and selling it in the city as fuel. By learning to make a more intensive use of it, they were getting the most out of the steadily shrinking land. Thus alongside fishing at the end of the seventeenth century, tree nurseries and horticulture became their means of subsistence. Following drainage of the Haarlemmermeer lake in 1852, they added the cultivation of strawberries, flowers and ornamental plants. They sold their produce in a number of Dutch cities, where they knew their way around thanks to their centuries of selling peat. In nearby Amsterdam in particular they

found a willing market, especially when the city began to grow so rapidly in the final quarter of the nineteenth century. Strawberries from Aalsmeer were particularly popular with Amsterdammers, while cut flowers and pot-plants found

A colourful profusion of flowers passes through the distribution hall at FloraHolland every day. Photo: anonymous.


their way in flat barges to buyers in the city flower markets, such as the one held to this day on the Singel (avenue) near the Munt, the former Mint. The traditional trade in flowers and plants from Aalsmeer is carried on today with

modern methods. The Coöperatieve Bloemenveiling FloraHolland was created in 2008 after a merger between the Verenigde Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer and the former FloraHolland. The new company is still a cooperative, but its members are now to be found practising their trade in more than 60 countries around the world, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Israel. Their products arrive daily in Aalsmeer to be traded further afield. The traditional auction clock has been succeeded by projection screens which display the products on offer accompanied by further information. The flowers themselves stay in the refrigerated rooms. In addition to bidding by the buyers physically present in the auction hall, it is also possible to bid remotely through a computer monitor. All the clocks in Aalsmeer are due to shift to this new ‘image auctioning’ in mid-2014. In addition to the auctioning of cut flowers, direct mediation between buyers and suppliers is on the rise at FloraHolland, particularly when it comes to the trade in pot-plants. Almost 85 per cent of the flowers and plants on sale at FloraHolland go abroad, with Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy as the most important export destinations. Flowers from Aalsmeer can be bought anywhere in the world within a day: refrigerated transport takes place by road, rail, sea and air. Instead of sailing on barges to Amsterdam, the journey is more likely to be by aircraft to New York or Moscow.


World port Amsterdam’s first wharf consisted of a piece of land a few dozen metres wide, filled in on the western bank of the Amstel river in the fourteenth century. This quayside was simply called ‘Op ’t Water’ or ‘on the water’, and later the Damrak. In the seventeenth century, many shops and taverns occupied the ground-floor level of the houses that lined the Damrak. The current Zeehavens Amsterdam (or Amsterdam Port) area today covers around 70 hectares and stretches from the piers of IJmuiden in the North Sea through to the Oranjesluizen floodgates on the IJsselmeer. The profile of this modern port is marked by tall container cranes, oil-tank farms and terrains with warehouses for the storage and distribution of the most varied goods. The porters, barrow-men and barge-men of the old port on the Damrak would be entirely lost here, but perhaps in a few places they might still detect the aroma of cocoa. Cocoa beans were already being imported into Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, and today the city hosts the largest cocoa terminal in the world. If continuity and change converge anywhere in the port area then it is here. The first signboards for ‘chocolate manufacturers’ appeared in the city’s streets at the end of the seventeenth century, and by the eighteenth Amsterdam had become host to an increasing number of chocolate factories. Here the imported cocoa beans were ground and processed for consumption and transit. When cocoa and chocolate

became a mass consumption product at the end of the nineteenth century, a large number of substantial factories sprang up in Amsterdam and its environs. The cocoa and chocolate industry became particularly important in the adjoining Zaanstreek. In addition to Amsterdam itself, the Zaanstreek is still the site of large-scale conversion of cocoa beans into chocolate, cocoa powder and cocoa butter. These semi-manufactures are then sold on to factories in other European countries. Until the 1980s the transhipment of cocoa still occurred in jute bags, each weighing around 65 kilos. Stevedores unloaded them bag by bag from the ship holds onto the quayside or flat-bottomed boats. After experiments with container transportation in the 1980s, the 1990s saw the introduction of bulk transport of cocoa beans in ship holds. Around a quarter of the world’s cocoa production currently finds its way to Zeehavens Amsterdam in bulk and in containers. In addition to cocoa, huge volumes of other raw materials also pass through the North Sea Canal. After a slump which reached its lowest point at the end of the 1960s, the Amsterdam Port began to pick up again at the end of the 1980s. Apart

p. 41 This panorama of Amsterdam shows the view from the roof of the Haringpakkerstoren, an old tower near the old harbor. The harbor covers the left half of the panorama. Designed by E. Maaskamp, 1816. Amsterdam City Archives.


from the important traditional markets of oil products, coal, sand and gravel, the transhipment of containers and general cargo is growing. As Northwest Europe’s fourth port, some 95 million tons of goods were transferred in the North Sea Canal area in 2013, including some 78 million in Amsterdam’s port itself. What is particularly notable is that in recent years Amsterdam has also become a popular port of call for cruise liners. When passengers disembark after a trip through the modern port between IJmuiden and Amsterdam, they pour out onto the Damrak to view the historic city. Perhaps without being aware of it, they may be treading the very piece of ground on the Amstel’s western bank which hosted Amsterdam’s very first quayside in the fourteenth century.


View of Westpoort, the port of Amsterdam. Photo: Edwin van Eis, 2011.



Amsterdam Metropolitan Area

The Netherlands has always been a country of cities. As far back as the seventeenth century foreign visitors were commenting on the proximity of the cities in the west of the country, and on the excellence of the connections between them. These links were actually mainly by water. In the nineteenth century, too, foreigners were astonished at just how quickly one could journey between Rotterdam, Delft, The Hague, Leiden, Haarlem, Utrecht and Amsterdam – but this was now by train. In the twentieth century these cities continued to reach out towards each other to form an urban agglomeration, criss-crossed by road, rail or water routes and with a green heart in the middle: Randstad Holland, or the West Holland urban conurbation. On the northern wing of this Randstad, local and provincial authorities currently cooperate informally in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (MRA in Dutch), which stretches from IJmuiden to Lelystad and from Purmerend to Haarlemmermeer. Within this zone agreements are reached on An overview of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.


transportation, economy, urbanisation, landscape and sustainability. It’s a collaboration which has its roots in a long history of interchange between Amsterdam and the surrounding area. In the Middle Ages the farmers of Waterland north of the IJ produced butter and cheese which was transported from Amsterdam over the Dutch waterways to be traded further afield. When large vessels began to sail the world’s seas from the IJ in the seventeenth century, many of the recruited seamen came from North Holland. Today the green countryside above Amsterdam is a tourist attraction. Until the start of the nineteenth century the former Zuiderzee, now the IJsselmeer, to the east and southeast of the city, was the only navigable waterway between the renowned merchant city of Amsterdam and the rest of the world. The city authorities ensured that the route was equipped with beacons, and sent pilots to ensure that the sea-going ships did not run aground. These days a large part of the IJsselmeer has been ‘poldered’ or

reclaimed, and every day sees huge volumes of vehicle and train traffic between residential cities such as Almere and Lelystad in the polder and the working areas around Schiphol and Amsterdam. To the south of Amsterdam in the Middle Ages were the waterways over which Amsterdam sailors brought butter, cheese, beer and other wares to Holland and further. Just like Amstelland, the Gooi and Vechtstreek areas have retained a lot of their old atmosphere, but today they are also criss-crossed by wide roads and railways. From many places one can make out in the distance the outline of the business centres in Amsterdam South-East or the Zuid-As area of the city. More to the west was once the Haarlemmermeer, the body of water which threatened Amsterdam and Haarlem as it nibbled away at its banks, but where fishing also flourished. These days, day in and day out, aircraft land and take off here at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol every few minutes. Further to

the west of Amsterdam, giant oceangoing vessels slide through the North Sea Canal, through the far lower-lying ‘polderland’. On the northern bank of the canal old and new come together in the Zaanstreek, in a landscape of large-scale industry and old-fashioned windmills. The landscape is perhaps the best witness to the history of interplay between the city and the surrounding countryside in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. This area competes as a hub for traffic and economic activity among Europe’s leaders, but its modernisation also goes hand-in-hand with the maintenance of its tradition and cultural heritage. This applies not only to Amsterdam with its historic canal area in the inner city and its futuristic high-rise buildings on the Zuid-As. It can be seen everywhere, from the modern architecture in Almere to the historic Grote Markt, or grand market, in Haarlem, from the picturesque green wooden houses in the Zaanstreek to the very newest business parks around Schiphol.


Hyperconnected In the seventeenth century the Nieuwe Brug, or New Bridge, over the Damrak was the meeting point where merchants, seafarers and other curious Amsterdammers could read the news brought in from around the world by sea-going vessels which anchored in the IJ. Seafarers also left letters bearing commercial news in the nearby Paalhuis. A register of these letters was kept and hung up in the Beurs (exchange) on the Dam where, on payment, the letters could be collected by the merchants to whom they were addressed. This was how news was passed on in the Amsterdam of the Golden Age. Amsterdam is more connected to the outside world in the twenty-first century

The Equinix building at Amsterdam Science Park.


than ever before, and the means of communication have been thoroughly modernized. Amsterdam is renowned as one of the most popular ‘internet hubs’ in Europe. Through the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS IX), streams of digital data are exchanged internationally by major telecom and IT companies, as well as by smaller users. Alongside Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Port of Amsterdam and Greenport Aalsmeer, this ‘dataport’ grows steadily and invisibly: a network of fibreoptic cables under the bed of the North Sea and in the swampy soil under the city The leading role played by Amsterdam in international internet traffic has a remarkable genesis. The very first transatlantic e-mail message was sent

from Amsterdam University’s Centrum Wiskunde (Mathematics) and Informatica (CWI), on 17 November 1988. It was sent by internet pioneer Piet Beertema of the CWI to the American academic computer network, the predecessor of the World Wide Web, making Amsterdam the first city outside the United States to be connected to the internet. Piet Beertema’s e-mail was the start of an evolution which Amsterdam has undergone to become one of the most important internet hubs in the world. In 1994 the Amsterdam Internet Exchange began as a pilot project in the Science Park in Amsterdam-Oost. This was possible because it was the place where the first fibre-optic cable between the United States and Europe surfaced, the result of persistent pressure from physicists of the University of Amsterdam. The AMS IX was established officially in 1997 and currently offers some 600 networks the facility to exchange internet traffic.

International surveys have shown in recent years that Amsterdam can now number itself among the most connected cities in the world. Apart from the personal efforts by Amsterdam’s internet pioneers, this is largely thanks to the know-how available in Amsterdam’s two universities and the University of Utrecht. The proximity of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, with its rapid connections to Europe and the rest of the world, also make the city and its environs an attractive location for ICT companies. As an internet hub, Amsterdam is very much internationally oriented, just as the city was in the Golden Age, when communications were conducted through letters carried by sea. In 1664 the German writer and poet Philipp von Zesen wrote in a description of the city for his compatriots: “Here one can discover what is going on in all the empires and nations of the world, and also what memorable things are happening there.” In fact, Amsterdam was already ‘hyperconnected’.

Internet cables at Amsterdam Science Park. This message demonstrated the first-ever transatlantic internet connection in 1988.


Hub Amsterdam In 1629 a group of Amsterdam merchants brazenly declared that in the preceding years they had ‘seen off all nations from the seas and had drawn here almost all trade from other countries and with their ships had served the whole of Europe.’ This was a slight exaggeration, but the claim was not far off the truth. In the 17th century Amsterdam was indeed in contact with virtually the entire world. The wealthiest merchants with the widest networks in Europa had chosen Amsterdam as their home base. The marvel of this rapid rise has been something of a puzzle to historians, but they have gone some way to providing an explanation. ‘Amsterdam’s growth of trade was rooted in its ‘gateway-function’ for an extensive

and highly developed hinterland’ writes Clé Lesger, a social and economic historian of the University of Amsterdam. Leger has studied in detail the economic miracle that transpired in the seventeenth century where the River Amstel meets the IJ. Amsterdam blossomed ‘because certain trades could be conducted better, more efficiently and therefore more cheaply in Amsterdam than anywhere else.’ Amsterdam was also the most important centre of the knowledge and information that was indispensable for world trade. ‘Through its favourable geographical position, the reach of its trading network and the frequency of the movement of ships in and out of the port, Amsterdam developed from the end of the eighteenth century to become one of

Cargo at Schiphol airport. Photo: Herman Wouters, Hollandse Hoogte.


the most important hubs of international communications and exchange of information.’ Much water has passed through the IJ since the seventeenth century and for some years now that water has not been salt water from the sea. As an economic centre through all those years Amsterdam has experienced growth, blossoming and decline – even virtual stagnation. Steam ships, railways, motor traffic, air transport, internet and other forms of modernity, have changed the city and its surroundings almost beyond recognition, but the people who live and work there have always adapted to the new conditions, and have always been revolving around trade and logistics. According to the experts, increasing globalization will lead in the twenty-first century to a concentration of more and more economic activities in a select group of urban zones in the world, into which goods and services are drawn and then

further spread out into the hinterland. In such a changed world, the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area will continue to play a prominent role. In the municipal report ‘Amsterdam, smart global hub’ (2012) we read that ‘trade and logistics have always been crucial for the development of Amsterdam and should be an even more significant economic factors in the future’. The tone of the authors of that report from 2012 is somewhat more modest than that of the arrogant Amsterdam merchants in 1629, but the ambitions are no less. They see the city as an important centre of European business, one of the places in Europe where goods and services come together. And, in their view, Amsterdam will be one of the global business hubs of the future. ‘This is the series of influential cities that connect major economic regions and countries with the word economy. These are cities where talent from the whole world will come to work.’


Colophon This is a publication by the Amsterdam City Archives, Amsterdam Marketing, Amsterdam Airport Area and SADC. Text: Niels Wisman Cover image: View of Amsterdam from the Amsteldijk by Jacob van Ruisdael. Ca. 1680. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Special thanks to: Anne Beeksma, Maaike de Haas, Zlatka Siljdedic, Maverick Translations, partners Logistics Cluster Amsterdam Economic Board.

Looking out across the site of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Stoomboot Maatschappij shipping company, with the SS Pomona on the left. Photo by Jacob Olie, 1904. Amsterdam City Archives.


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