Amsterdam is the constitutional capital and largest city of the Netherlands. It lies in the province of Noord-Holland (North Holland) on the IJ, an inlet of the IJsselmeer. The name Amsterdam is derived from the old name Amstelredamme, which in turn comes from the the fact that it is situated where the small, bifurcated Amstel River (which empties into the IJ) is joined by a sluice dam (originally built c.1240). Amsterdam is also known as the "Venice of the North", due to the fact that the city is cut by some 40 concentric and radial canals that are flanked by streets (most often on both sides) and crossed by some 400 bridges. Almost the entire city rests on a foundation of (wooden) piles driven through peat and sand to a firm substratum of clay.

Amsterdam was charted as a city around 1300. In 1369 it became a member of the Hanseatic league. In 1578, after accepting the Reformation, the people expelled their pro-Spanish magistrates and joined the Netherland provinces. In the late 16th century Amsterdam grew rapidly, due to the decline of Antwerp and Ghent, and a large amount of refugees coming in from other nations (Flemish merchants, Jewish diamond cutters and merchants, and French Huguenots). The city's growth was further increased by the The Peace of Westphalia (1648), that closed the Scheldt (Escaut) to navigation. The Golden Age for Amsterdam came in the 17th century, after the succesful conclusion of the Dutch wars for independence from Spain. Because of its tolerant government, it became a center of liberal thought and book printing. Amsterdam became the chief commercial centre of northern Europe. The beautiful houses you can still find flanking the canals today were built in this period by wealthy tradesmen.

This situation of prosperity ended in the late 18th century because of the silting of the Zuiderzee and the British blockade before and during the Napoleonic wars. The city was captured by the French in 1795 and became the capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was ruled by Louis Bonaparte. In 1894 the constitution made it the capital of the Netherlands; the sovereigns are usually sworn in at Amsterdam and reside in a palace outside the city. However, The Hague is the seat of government. In the latter part of the 19th century, commercial activities revived with the opening of the North Sea and North Holland canals. During World War II Amsterdam was occupied by German troops (1940–45) and suffered severe hardship. Most of the city's Jews (c.75,000 in 1940) were deported and killed by the Germans. The port was badly damaged, but it has since been rebuilt and improved.

Amsterdam has been home to some famous Dutch people: Rembrandt (who was born in Leiden), Anne Frank, Mondriaan, and Spinoza, in no particular order.

For the interested tourist, there are a great many things to do in Amsterdam apart from the (in)famous Red Light District. To see the city from a less usual point of view, take a trip on a canal boat. The tour will lead you along many beautiful spots and the guide has interesting things to tell about Amsterdam's history.

Amsterdam has many museums. Among them are the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House mentioned above. You van also visit the Historical Museum, the Allard Pierson museum (archeological) or Nemo, a science museum. Less sophisticated are Madame Tussaud's, the tattoo museum and the sex museum.

Amsterdam has loads of monumental buildings, many of which are the merchant's houses that can be found along the canals, but also bridges, churches, towers, gate buildings and courtyards. Amsterdam also has the oldest Dutch zoo: Artis.

In short: enjoy your stay and be sure to look further than the next coffeeshop.

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