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Netherlands is the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which consists of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba in the Caribbean. The Netherlands is a parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy, located in Western Europe. It is bordered by the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east.

The Netherlands is often called Holland. This is formally incorrect as North and South Holland in the western Netherlands are only two of the country's twelve provinces. Still, many Dutch people colloquially refer to their country as Holland in this way, as a synecdoche. For more on this and other naming issues see terminology of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is a geographically low-lying and densely populated country. It is popularly known for its traditional windmills, tulips, cheese, clogs (wooden shoes), delftware and gouda pottery, for its bicycles, its dikes and surge barriers, and, on the other hand, traditional values and civil virtues such as its classic social tolerance. An old parliamentary democracy, the country is more recently known for its rather liberal policies toward recreational drugs, prostitution, homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia.

The Netherlands has an international outlook; among other affiliations the country is a founding member of the European Union (EU), NATO, the OECD, and has signed the Kyoto protocol. Along with Belgium and Luxembourg, the Netherlands is one of three member nations of the Benelux economic union. The country is host to five international (ised) courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. All of these courts (except the Special Tribunal for Lebanon), as well as the EU's criminal intelligence agency (Europol), are situated in The Hague, which has led to the city being referred to as "the world's legal capital."

A remarkable aspect of the Netherlands is its flatness. Hilly landscapes can be found only in the south-eastern tip of the country on the foothills of the Ardennes, the central part and where the glaciers pushed up several hilly ridges such as the Hondsrug in Drenthe, the stuwwallen (push moraines) near Arnhem and Nijmegen, Salland, Twente and the Utrechtse Heuvelrug.

Under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, the Netherlands region was part of the Seventeen Provinces, which also included most of present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and some land in France and Germany.

The Eighty Years' War between the provinces and Spain began in 1568. In 1579, the northern half of the Seventeen Provinces formed the Union of Utrecht, a treaty in which they promised to support each other in their defence against the Spanish army. The Union of Utrecht is seen as the foundation of the modern Netherlands. In 1581 the northern provinces adopted the Act of Abjuration, the declaration of independence in which the provinces officially deposed Philip II of Spain as reigning monarch in the northern provinces.

Queen Elizabeth I of England sympathised with the Dutch struggle against the Spanish, and in 1585 she concluded a treaty with the Dutch whereby she promised to send an English army to the Netherlands to aid the Dutch in their war with the Spanish. In December 1585, 7,600 soldiers were sent to the Netherlands from England under the command of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. However, the English army was of no real benefit to the Dutch rebellion.

Although Robert Dudley returned to the Netherlands in November 1586 with another army, the army still had little effect in the rebellion. Philip II, the son of Charles V, was not prepared to let them go easily, and war continued until 1648, when Spain under King Philip IV finally recognised the independence of the seven northwestern provinces in the Peace of Münster. Parts of the southern provinces became de facto colonies of the new republican-mercantile empire.
After independence, the provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Groningen, Friesland, Utrecht, Overijssel, and Gelre formed a confederation known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. All these provinces were autonomous and had their own government, the "States of the Province". The States-General, the confederal government, were seated in The Hague and consisted of representatives from each of the seven provinces. The sparsely populated region of Drenthe, mainly consisting of poor peatland, was part of the republic too, although Drenthe was not considered one of the provinces; it had its own States, but the landdrost of Drenthe was appointed by the States-General. Moreover, the Republic had come to occupy during the Eighty Years' War a number of so-called Generality Lands (Generaliteitslanden in Dutch). These territories were governed directly by the States-General. They did not have a government of their own and did not have representatives in the States-General. Their population was mainly Roman Catholic, and these areas were used as a buffer zone between the Republic and the Southern Netherlands.

The Dutch Empire grew to become one of the major seafaring and economic powers of the 17th century. In the Dutch Golden Age ("Gouden Eeuw"), colonies and trading posts were established all over the world. Dutch settlement in North America began with the founding of New Amsterdam, on the southern tip of Manhattan in 1614. In South Africa, the Dutch settled the Cape Colony in 1652. By 1650, the Dutch owned 16,000 merchant ships. During the 17th century, the Dutch population increased from an estimated 1.5 million to almost 2 million.

For a comprehensive list of the territories that formed the Dutch Empire, see Evolution of the Dutch Empire.
Many economic historians regard the Netherlands as the first thoroughly capitalist country in the world. In early modern Europe it featured the wealthiest trading city (Amsterdam) and the first full-time stock exchange. The inventiveness of the traders led to insurance and retirement funds as well as phenomena such as the boom-bust cycle, the world's first asset-inflation bubble, the tulip mania of 1636–1637, and, according to Murray Sayle, the world's first bear raider, Isaac le Maire, who forced prices down by dumping stock and then buying it back at a discount. The republic went into a state of general decline in the later 18th century, with economic competition from England and long standing rivalries between the two main factions in Dutch society, the Staatsgezinden (Republicans) and the Prinsgezinden (Royalists or Orangists) as main factors.

In the 17th century, plantation colonies were established by the Dutch and English along the many rivers in the fertile Guyana plains. The earliest documented colony in Guiana was along the Suriname River and called Marshall's Creek. The area was named after an Englishman. Disputes arose between the Dutch and the English. In 1667, the Dutch decided to keep the nascent plantation colony of Suriname conquered from the English, resulting from the Treaty of Breda. The English were left with New Amsterdam, a small trading post in North America, which is now known as New York City.
On 19 January 1795, one day after stadtholder William V of Orange fled to England, the Bataafse Republiek (Batavian Republic) was proclaimed, rendering the Netherlands a unitary state. From 1795 to 1806, the Batavian Republic designated the Netherlands as a republic modelled after the French Republic.

From 1806 to 1810, the Koninkrijk Holland (Kingdom of Holland) was set up by Napoleon Bonaparte as a puppet kingdom governed by his brother Louis Bonaparte in order to control the Netherlands more effectively. The name of the leading province, Holland, was used for the whole country. The Kingdom of Holland covered the area of the present day Netherlands, with the exception of Limburg and parts of Zeeland, which were French territory. In 1807, Prussian East Frisia and Jever were added to the kingdom. In 1809, however, after a failed British invasion, Holland had to give over all territories south of the Rhine to France.

King Louis Bonaparte did not meet Napoleon's expectations – he tried to serve Dutch interests instead of his brother's, allowed trade with the British in spite of the Continental System and even tried to learn Dutch – and he was forced to abdicate on 1 July 1810. He was succeeded by his five-year-old son Napoleon Louis Bonaparte. Napoleon Louis reigned as Louis II for just ten days as Napoleon ignored his young nephew’s accession to the throne. The Emperor sent in an army to invade the country and dissolved the Kingdom of Holland. The Netherlands then became part of the French Empire.

The Netherlands remained part of the French Empire until the autumn of 1813, when Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Leipzig and forced to withdraw his troops from the country.
William I of the Netherlands, son of the last stadtholder William V van Oranje, returned to the Netherlands in 1813 and became Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands. On 16 March 1815, the Sovereign Prince became King of the Netherlands.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna formed the United Kingdom of the Netherlands by expanding the Netherlands with Belgium in order to create a strong country on the northern border of France. In addition, William became hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The Congress of Vienna gave Luxembourg to William as personal property in exchange for his German possessions, Nassau-Dillenburg, Siegen, Hadamar, and Diez.

Belgium rebelled and gained independence in 1830, while the personal union between Luxembourg and the Netherlands was severed in 1890, when King William III of the Netherlands died with no surviving male heirs. Ascendancy laws prevented his daughter Queen Wilhelmina from becoming the next Grand Duchess. Therefore the throne of Luxembourg passed over from the House of Orange-Nassau to the House of Nassau-Weilburg, a junior branch of the House of Nassau.

The largest Dutch settlement abroad was the Cape Colony. It was established by Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company at Cape Town (Dutch: Kaapstad) in 1652. The Prince of Orange acquiesced to British occupation and control of the Cape Colony in 1788. The Netherlands also possessed several other colonies, but Dutch settlement in these lands was limited. Most notable were the vast Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Dutch Guiana (now Suriname). These 'colonies' were first administered by the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company, both collective private enterprises. Three centuries later these companies got into financial trouble, and the territories in which they operated were taken over by the Dutch government (in 1815 and 1791 respectively). Only then did they become official colonies.

During its colonial period the Netherlands was heavily involved in the slave trade. The Dutch planters relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate the coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and cotton plantations along the rivers. Treatment of the slaves by their owners was notoriously bad, and many slaves escaped the plantations. Slavery was abolished by the Netherlands in Dutch Guiana in 1863, but the slaves were not fully released until 1873, after a mandatory 10 year transition period during which time they were required to work on the plantations for minimal pay and without state sanctioned torture. As soon as they became truly free, the slaves largely abandoned the plantations where they had suffered for several generations in favor of the city Paramaribo. Every year this is remembered during Keti Koti, 1 July, Emancipation Day (end of slavery).

During the 19th century, the Netherlands was slow to industrialize compared to neighbouring countries, mainly because of the great complexity involved in modernizing the infrastructure, consisting largely of waterways, and the great reliance its industry had on windpower.

Although the Netherlands remained neutral during World War I, it was heavily involved in the war. German general Count Schlieffen, who was Chief of the Imperial German General Staff had originally planned to invade the Netherlands while advancing into France in the original Schlieffen Plan. This was changed by Schlieffen's successor Helmuth von Moltke the Younger in order to maintain Dutch neutrality. Later during the war Dutch neutrality proved essential to German survival until the blockade by Great Britain in 1916, when the import of goods through the Netherlands was no longer possible. However, the Dutch were able to continue to remain neutral during the war using their diplomacy and their ability to trade.
After the war, the Dutch economy prospered by leaving behind an era of neutrality and gaining closer ties with neighbouring states. The Netherlands was one of the founding members of the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) grouping, was among the twelve founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and was among the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later evolve, via the EEC (Common Market), into the European Union.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of great social and cultural change, such as rapid ontzuiling (literally: depillarisation), a term that describes the decay of the old divisions along class and religious lines. Youths, and students in particular, rejected traditional mores and pushed for change in matters like women's rights, sexuality, disarmament and environmental issues.

Today, the Netherlands is regarded as a liberal country, considering its drugs policy and its legalisation of euthanasia. On 1 April 2001, the Netherlands became the first nation to allow same-sex marriage.

On 10 October 2010 the Netherlands Antilles—a former country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Caribbean—was dissolved. Referendums were held on each island of the Netherlands Antilles between June 2000 and April 2005 to determine their future status. As a result the islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (the BES islands) were to obtain closer ties with the Netherlands. This led to the incorporation of these three islands into the country of the Netherlands as special municipalities upon the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. The special municipalities are collectively known as the Caribbean Netherlands.

Netherlands political map:

Netherlands location map:

July 2003

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