Circa 1200 – 1585
Established around the mid 13th century, Amsterdam’s beginnings can be found in its name. A dam was built on the river Amstel, and the settlement along its banks was named ‘Aemstelredam’. The record of this dam is 1260, but by 1275 people living along the Amstel were granted privileges by the overlord, Count Floris V of Holland.
These privileges meant that people could trade in Holland without paying any tolls. In effect, this caused cheaper rates which opened up Amsterdam as a trading port to the world. This date is seen as the birth date of this great city.
The town that sprung up around the marshy lands on the Amstel grew quickly. It was very much a catholic, medieval town, based on commerce and fishing. The first and therefore oldest church was built in 1306, which is still aptly known as The Old Church. By 1334, Amsterdam had officially become a parish and in 1345, to the great fluster of many peoples, a certified miracle happened. The whole miracle comprised an old man, a nun and a regurgitated piece of fireproof Jesus bread and was an incredibly important thing to happen to the city. An influx of pilgrims began to move in to Amsterdam, causing its first major growth spurt by tripling the population. By 1408, Amsterdam had grown to such extent that a second parish was needed. They had to also built a new church for this parish. It still stands today. It’s called The New Church.
In 1400, the oligarchic political system of aldermen and mayor that would run Amsterdam right through its Golden Age was firmly established. The city won the right to name it’s mayors without permission from the Sovereign. In effect, Amsterdam had become a city state. It was always about business, though. In 1323 Amsterdam won exclusive rights to import beer from Hamburg. Luckily for both Amsterdam and everyone else, beer was the universal, all-day drink of the Dutch (adults and children) for hundreds of years. Herring was the other product of major importance to Amsterdam’s success. The Baltic trade was known in the city as The Mother of all Commerce, as it was the city’s access to herring, grain, wood, iron ore and various furs. The Baltic trade was dominated by the immensely powerful and established Hanseatic League. Amsterdam ensured, however, that their access to it would continue, by both innovatively looking for business where the Hanseatic League hadn’t, and by defeating them in a minor war in 1441. Dutch fishermen had also very cleverly figured out how to gut and de-bone herring in a way that delayed rotting, and then how to preserve them on their ships by using salt. This is seen as a major discovery in Dutch history, as they could send their ships further and catch more fish. Their economy, for hundreds of years afterwards, would be based on this fact. Beer and fish. Still a good night out. Got to love Amsterdam.
From this point until the 16th century, really, nothing overtly exciting happened. Well, no miracles. The weird inter-weaving incest-laden relations between the ruling elite of European society meant thatAmsterdam, within the wider Netherlands, eventually fell into the possession of the Holy Roman Empire. Technically this actually happened as a part of the Duchy of Burgundy, but this period is so full of technicalities, it really becomes tedious. Trust us, nothing that exciting.
In 1489, the sovereign who would become Maximilian the Holy Roman Emperor, found himself in a bit of financial strife. Amsterdam came to his aid with a loan of 10,000 pounds. He was very grateful. He granted them the use of his crown to use above their three x‘s coat of arms. This excited a lot of people at some point, somewhere and you will still see it on the city’s coat of arms today. Tell someone.
Amsterdam did grow during this period. Its borders around the mid 14th century were the Ij Harbour (where Central Station is today), the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, and the Spui. The Ij (pronounced ‘eye’ – well, kind of) is a very old word for water. Oudezijds Voorburgwal means the Old-side front town-wall. The Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal means, of course, the New-side front town-wall.
In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in some place called Wittenberg (with presumably a very large nail and hammer), it kicked off a hundred and thirty years of religious raging and grumblings around Europe. This period would not only see the Netherlands become the only republic in Western Europe, bu tAmsterdam the richest and most powerful city on the planet.
By this time,Amsterdamhad grown again. If you look at a map, with the Dam at the centre, Amsterdam has throbbed out, one dike at a time, adding on more islands as they’ve reclaimed more land. Now the boundaries were still the Ij to the North, but the Nieuwmarkt (The New Market, newer than the old market on the Dam) and the Munt now bordered it to the East and South. In the West, a large canal called the Singel had been looped around the side of the city, one shovelful at a time. Its population would have been around 30,000 people.
The reformation hit Amsterdam from early on and in several different ways, before the city finally succumbed to it in 1578. In 1535, an Anabaptist uprising occurred. The Anabaptists rose up by running around naked in the street in the middle of the night and really irritating their neighbours.Amsterdam city government punished them severely, some of the men having their hearts cut out and thrown in their face.
In 1566, an iconoclastic fury hit the Netherlands. People ran to their local churches, smashing idolatrous images of the Virgin Mary and others, and generally giving priests a hard time. This is known in Dutch history as ‘De Beeldenstorm’. It was not a good time to be a priest or a statue.
Protestant and Calvinist preachers began to do their thing around the country, inciting unrest against the Spanish and the Pope and they probably gave the French a hard time in there as well. Around this time, pressure began to build up. Spain were the rulers of the Netherlands and the Spanish king, Philip II, was trying to centralise power away from the Dutch nobility. One Dutch noble, William the Silent, stood up and quietly defied the Catholic Spanish rule, starting a revolt that would last for Eighty Years. (Yes, and it would become called the Eighty Years War.)
Amsterdam was actually one of the last cities to join in the war against Spain, which had run for ten years before the city got involved. Amsterdam had been a base for the Spanish against the rebelling countryside surrounding it, until the Calvinist rebels finally managed to push them out. In 1578, Amsterdam succumbed and became officially Calvinist. The city’s resources now went towards the war against Spain, although Amsterdam merchants took a tack that eventually contributed to sending the Spanish bankrupt. They kept selling them ships which the Dutch would defeat at war.
The Calvinist Alteration could have meant the end of Amsterdam’s wily ways. Having always been a business city, it had always had to be a tolerant city. Merchants, clergy and artisans had to share the streets and alleys with marauding and horny sailors, prostitutes and religious refugees. A hardline Calvinist view deplored this aspect of life, but business has always come before religion and politics inAmsterdam. Religiously mixed marriages, though prohibited, were tolerated, as too was the discrete catholic worship that happened within convents and secret churches.
By 1581, the seven rebelling states of the Netherland sunified officially against Spain. What emerged was a new player on the international scene that was steadily becoming wealthier and more powerful. The Netherlandswas ruled by country-wide representatives assembled into what was referred to as The States General. Effectively, this was the only republic around Europe. Amsterdam was both the economic powerhouse and the cultural epicentre of this republic.
Images: wikipedia, entoen.nu,