1902 Encyclopedia > Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, or AMSTELDAM, formerly called Amstel-redam, capital of the Netherlands, situated in the province of North Holland, is built somewhat in the form of a half-moon, on the Y or Ij, an arm of the Zuyder Zee, in 52° 22' N. lat., and 4° 53' E. long. The name Amsterdam means "the dam or dyke of the Amstel," from a river so called which passes in a north-easterly direction through the city,—the " dam " referring to the extensive and costly system of embankments, canals, and sluices necessary to secure this low-lying city against the encroachments of the tide. Towards the land Amsterdam was at one time sur-rounded by a fosse or canal, and regularly fortified; but its ramparts have been demolished, and the twenty-eight Gracht, and the Singel—extend, in the form of polygonal crescents, nearly parallel to each other and to the former fosse ; while numerous smaller canals intersect the city in every direction, dividing it into about 90 islands, with nearly 290 bridges. Some of these are of stone, but the majority are of iron and wood, and constructed so as to allow vessels for inland navigation to pass through. The site of Amsterdam was originally a peat bog, and all its buildings rest upon piles that are driven some 40 or 50 feet through a mass of loose sand and mud until they reach a solid stratum of firm clay. This foundation is perfectly secure as long as the piles remain under water. In 1822, however, an overladen corn magazine sank into the mud. The piles are liable to the ravages of wood-worms that are supposed to have been brought by vessels from foreign ports. The streets in the oldest parts of the town are narrow and irregular, but are nowhere without pavements or footways. The houses frequently present a picturesque sky-line, broken by fantastic gables, roofs, chimneys, towers, and turrets of all forms and dimensions. Four of the principal of those towers have exterior galleries very near the top, running round them, from which an alarm used to be blown in case of fire, and a light shown to indicate the locality of the fire to the citizens, who from the age of twenty to fifty are all enrolled in the fire-brigade and civic guard. This mode of signalling is now, however, superseded by a system of telegraphic communication embracing the whole city. Westward of the Amstel, which passes almost through the centre of the city, is the more modern part, where the houses are often exceedingly handsome, and the streets broad, and planted with rows of large trees between the houses and the canals. The chief promenades are the Vondelspark, laid out and maintained by private individuals, with the design of its being ultimately presented to the city; and the Plantaadje or Plantation, part of which is occupied by the botanic and the zoological gardens, and which is also supported by private contributions. Of the public building's, the rjrincipal is the palace, an imposing structure, built in 1648, by the architect Jacob van Kampen, and adorned with stone carvings by the celebrated artist Artus Quellinus of Antwerp. It is supported on 13,659 piles, and is 282 feet long, with a breadth of 235 feet and a height of 116, exclusive of a turreted cupola, which rises 66 feet above the main building. It was originally the Stadhuis, but was appropriated as a palace by King Louis Naixdeon in 1808. The most magnificent apartment in it is the great hall, measuring 120 feet by 57, and 90 in height, with walls incrusted with white Italian marble. On the opposite side from the palace of the square called the Dam, stands the Beurs or Exchange, a fine tetraprostyle Ionic building, serving as a front to a large quadrangle with a handsome peristyle of the same order. The Oude Kerk, built about the year 1300, has some beautiful stained windows and a fine organ, as well as monuments to various celebrated Dutchmen, including the naval heroes Van Heemskerk and Sweerts. The Niewe Kerk, a much finer edifice, where the kings of Holland are crowned, dating from 1408, is remarkable for the carving of its pulpit, for the elaborate bronze castings of its choir, and for the monuments to the famous Admiral De Ruyter and Holland's greatest poet, Vondel, whose statue stands in the park which bears his name. There are many other places of Avorship in Amsterdam, including those belonging to the Dutch Reformed Church, the English Episcopalians, the Scotch Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Jansenists, the Roman Catholics, the Greeks, &c, and also several Jewish synagogues; but, as a rule, the church architecture of the town is bald and uninteresting. We may except, however, the synagogue of the Shephardim Jews, the equal of which is only to be found at Leghorn; the Moses and Aaron's Church (R.C.) ; and the new Lutheran place of worship, which has a green copper cupola. The Paleis voor Volks-vlijt is a building of iron and glass, 440 feet long by 280 broad, with a dome 200 feet high, erected between 1855 and 1864. It is used for industrial exhibitions, the performance of operas, &c, and possesses a collection of pictures (copies and some originals), as well as a fine garden. The Schreijerstoren, or "crier's tower," at the end of the Geldersche Kade, where vessels left for all parts of the globe, was built about 1482, and got its name from the tears of the sailors who here bid their friends farewell. The chief literary institutions of Amsterdam are the Athenaeum, the society called " Felix Meritis," from the first words of the inscription on their place of meet-ing; the society " Natura Artis Magistra," to whom the zoological gardens belong; the Royal Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Seaman's Institute. The galleries of pic-tures in the city are of great value. The museum in the Trippenhuis con-tains over 400 works, chiefly of the Flemish and Dutch schools, including the "Night Guard" of Rembrandt, whose statue may be seen on the Kaasplein, opposite the house he occupied, and the "Banquet of the Civic Guard," by Van der Heist; besides nearly 4000 engravings, and a magnificent numismatic collection, considered one of the finest in the world. Among the other collections are those in the Museum Van der Hoop and in the Fodor Museum, that belonging to the " Arti et Amicitice" Society, as well as several private galleries. Amsterdam is also remarkable for the number and high character of its benevolent institutions, which are to a large extent supported by voluntary contributions. Among others may be mentioned hospitals for the sick, the aged, the infirm, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the insane, widows, orphans, and foundlings. There is a noble institution, the Society for the Public Welfare, whose object is to promote the education and improvement of all classes. It has branches in nearly every town and village in Holland. There is also an admirable sailors' home.

Amsterdam is now capitally supplied with water for drinking and culinary purposes from the Haarlem dunes. Formerly the inhabitants were dependent on the rain-water collected in cisterns, and the supply brought from Weesp in large flat-bottomed barges. This, added to the general humidity of the atmosphere caused by the canals, made Amsterdam an unpleasant place of residence in summer, but the exertions of the inhabitants have done much of late to counteract these noxious influences. The people usually have a robust appearance, and the death-rate of the city is low.

The population (1874) is estimated at 285,000, of whom about 60,000 are Roman Catholics, and 30,000 Jews, the rest being mostly Protestants of various sects.

The accompanying plan indicates the extent and position of the clocks of Amsterdam. The arsenal and the admiralty offices are situated on the island of Kattenburg, between the Dijk Gracht and the Niewe Vaart. The approach to the city from the Zuyder Zee is intricate and dangerous, owing to the numerous shallows; and a bar at the entrance to the Y compels vessels to unload part of their cargo in the roadstead. These delays and clangers were to a large extent provided against in 1825, by the opening of a canal across North Holland from the Niewe Diep, opposite the Texel, to Amsterdam; and a more direct and capacious canal to the North Sea is at present in process of con-struction. The following table gives the chief shipping statistics for the five years ending December 1870 :—


The principal imports of Amsterdam are—coffee, amounting in 1870 to 1,147,240 bags and 1499 casks; tea, in the same year, 79,573 chests; sugar, in the same year, 273,750,000 lb ; tobacco, rice, cotton, indigo, timber, tin, hemp, and grain. The exports comprise cheese, butter, madder, clover, rape, linseed oil, gin, and other products of Holland, besides general goods and manufactures from various European countries. There is also a large export trade in the produce of the East and West Indies. There are two lines of railway, the one connecting Amsterdam with Haarlem, Leyden, and Rotterdam; and the other with Utrecht, Arnheim, and Prussia. Amsterdam has sugar refineries; soap, oil, glass, iron, dye, and chemical works; distilleries, breweries, tanneries; tobacco and snuff factories. The cutting of diamonds has long been exten-sively practised in the city by the Jews. Although no longer the centre of the banking transactions of the world, Amsterdam is still a place of considerable importance in this respect. The celebrated bank of Amsterdam, founded in 1609, was dissolved in 1796; and the present bank of the Netherlands was established on the model of the Bank of England in 1814.

About the year 1200 Amsterdam was a small fishing village, held in fief by the lords of Amstel, together with the surrounding district, called Amstelland. Towards the close of the 13th century it reverted, in consequence of the complicity of Gj'sbrecht Van Amstel in the murder of Count Floris V, to the counts of Holland, who gave it a charter and other privileges. It was fortified in 1482, and soon rose to be the most important commercial city of the Netherlands. The early voyages to India, and the union of the seven provinces in 1579, added greatly to the prosperity of Amsterdam—so much so, that it excited the cupidity of the earl of 'Leicester, who made a futile at-tempt to surprise it in 1587; and its position was still further improved by the peace of Westphalia in 1648, which closed the navigation of the Scheldt, and conse-quently ruined the trade of Antwerp. Two years later, the stadtholder William II. intended to surprise it, but the bold attitude of the inhabitants obliged him to give up his project. Amsterdam suffered so severely from the war in the time of Cromwell, that more than 4000 houses stood tenantless; and the French occupation during the First Empire inflicted a more permanent injury upon the city. Since 1813, however, much of its former commercial influence has returned ; and the completion of the above-mentioned canal will, no doubt, confirm its position as the chief commercial city of the kingdom, its secondary place as a seaport lately having been due to the difficulty of access to it from the sea. Among the many eminent men who saw the light in Amsterdam may be mentioned the celebrated philosopher Baruch Spinosa (1632), the flower painter Van Huysum (1682), the naturalist Swammerdam (1637), and the poet Bilderdyk (1750). (See Caspar Commelins, Beschryving van Amsterdam, and J. Wagenaar's work bearing the same title.)

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